31 January 2009

Anne Carson

[from Anne Carson's The Beauty of the Husband, Alfred A. Knopf, 2001]


I will never forget.
Out behind the vineyard.
Stone place maye a shed or an icehouse no longer in use.
October, a little cold. Hay on the floor. We had gone to his grandfather's farm to

the grapes for wine.
You cannot imagine the feeling if you have never done it --
like hard bulbs of wet red satin exploding under your feet,
between your toes and up your legs arms face splashing everywhere --
It goes right through your clothes you know he said as we slogged up and down

in the vat.
When you take them off
you'll have juice all over.
His eyes moved onto me then he said Let's check.
Naked in the stone place it was true, sticky stains, skin, I lay on the hay

and he licked.
Licked it off.
Ran out and got more dregs in his hands and smeared
it on my knees neck belly licking. Plucking. Diving.
Tongue is the smell of October to me. I remember it as
swimming in a fast river for I kept moving and it was hard to move

while all around me
was moving too, that smell
of turned earth and cold plants and night coming on and
the old vat steaming slightly in the dusk out there and him,

raw juice on him.
Stamens on him
and as Kafka said in the end
my swimming was of no use to me you know I cannot swim after all.
Well it so happens more than 90% of all cultivated grapes are varieties of

Vitis vinifera
the Old World or European grape,
while native American grapes derive
from certain wild species of Vitis and differ in their "foxy" odor
as well as the fact that their skins slip so liquidly from the pulp.

An ideal wine grape
is one that is easily crushed.
Such things I learned from the grandfather
when we sat in the kitchen late at night cracking chestnuts.
Also that I should under no circumstances marry his grandson
whom he called tragikos a country word meaning either tragic or goat.

The Beauty of the Husband: A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos

Allen Grossman

[from Allen Grossman's The Woman on the Bridge over the Chicago River, New Directions, 1979]

The Runner

The man was thinking about his mother
And about the moon.

                              It was a mild night.
He was running under the stars. The moon
Had not risen,
                      but he did not doubt it would
Rise as he ran.

                      Small things crossed the road
Or turned uneasily on it. His mother
Was far away, like a cloud on a mountain
With rainy breasts. The man was not a runner
But he ran with strength.

                                    After a while, the moon
Did rise among the undiminished stars,
And he read as he ran the stone night-scripture
Of the moon by its own light.

                                            Then his mother
Came and ran beside him, smelling of rain;
And they ran on all night, together,
Like a man and his shadow.

Woman on the Bridge: Over the Chicago River : A Book of Poems

30 January 2009

Alicia Suskin Ostriker

[from Alicia Suskin Ostriker's No Heaven, University of Pittsburgh, 2005]

Ravel Piano Trio

Suppose I am a starving doe on your lawn.
Do you say too many deer, and go for a gun?

Do you play Ravel's Piano Trio in A minor for me
Breathing its hints of diamond moonlit meadows?

Do you throw me food with your own
Nail-bitten agitated hand?

The Idea of Making Love

The idea of making love      as sticking your tongue
into the calyx of the other           & licking up
its nectar      while being licked yourself      we
like this      because we are always manufacturing
nectar      and when someone sticks a pointy tongue
into us and takes a drop      on the tongue-tip and
swallows it      we make more nectar      we can always
      make more           of our own nectar and
           are always thirsty for the nectar of others

No Heaven (Pitt Poetry Series)

29 January 2009

Mark Doty

[from Mark Doty's School of the Arts, Harper Collins, 2005]

Now You're an Animal

I'd expected to sit for my portrait
in the photographer's studio --
chilly morning, fierce April wind on Sixth
slicing through my jacket and sweater,

new blur of the trees overhead --
but at the loft, a huge roll of white paper
hung from the ceiling, blocking a wall of windows;

he handed me a bucket of black paint
and brushes and said, Now, how would you
like to represent yourself? I wasn't ready
for that. It wasn't noon, I'd hurried across

the city, and didn't feel awake to the task
of metaphor. Then we were talking, easy, about
what others had done -- he photographed painters,

actors, whoever he liked in the arts --
and how dancers often leapt before the white field
he'd offered them. And I said,
I've always wanted antlers, and began to paint

high on the big page black reindeer horns,
in thick strokes, the paint dripping nicely,
and when I finished I could stand

beneath them and the serious, branching
architecture seemed to spring from my head.
He stood at the other end of the room,
framing me upside down in his lens. He said,

That's wonderful, what do you want to wear?
I didn't know. He said, Take off your shirt,
and I did, and he said, Now you're an animal!

I ripped open the buttons of my jeans
so as to be a lustful beast, and he cried,
Yes, that's it! And though it was a joke
still I was seized by a sort of heat;

I took deep breaths, tilted my head up,
stood in the center of my own authority
while he lifted sheets of film and pushed

others in again, and clicked the lens.
He said, That's good, what else? I don't know
how else to do it unless you're naked.
And I said, I'm okay with that, and without

even my watch or ring, only the arching
crown tangling high into the air above me,
I felt the up-pushing pulse of some originating flame.

I thought, This is the relation between narrative
and lyric: one minute you're on 23rd Street
trying to find an address, and the next
you're naked under a wet crown of horns.

That's how fast we slip into the underlife.
Later, out in the daylight, I thought,
What if my students see this picture?

or the Dean of Liberal Arts? -- but only
after I'd walked back out into
the elevator and the lobby, onto the sidewalk
with an odd warmth banked inside me,

creaturely: the undertime, beneath
the new haze of trees overhead,
bud time, the sharp spring wind

equal parts ice and green. What is lyric?
I wanted the animal seen
that I might know him. Even
waiting at the blustery intersections,

I was warmed by the incipient leaves,
and I held the antlers high in the wind,
their heat radiating down into my face,

and on the street a few men knew what I wished:
that my plain clothes hid hooves and haunches.

School of the Arts: Poems

28 January 2009

Lucille Clifton

[from Lucille Clifton's The Book of Light, Copper Canyon, 1993]

leda 1

there is nothing luminous
about this.
they took my children.
i live alone in the backside
of the village.
my mother moved
to another town. my father
follows me around the well,
his thick lips slavering,
and at night my dreams are full
of the cursing of me
fucking god fucking me.

leda 2

a note on visitations

sometimes another star chooses.
the ones coming in from the east
are dagger-fingered men,
princes of no known kingdom.
the animals are raised up in their stalls
battering the stable door.
sometimes it all goes badly;
the inn is strewn with feathers,
the old husband suspicious,
and the fur between her thights
is the only shining thing.

leda 3

a personal note (re: visitations)

always pyrotechnics;
stars spinning into phalluses
of light, serpents promising
sweetness, their forked tongues
thick and erect, patriarchs of bird
exposing themselves in the air.
this skin is sick with loneliness.
You want what a man wants,
next time come as a man
or don't come.

The Book of Light

27 January 2009

Josephy Brodsky

[from Joseph Brodsky's A Part of Speech, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1971]

Lullaby of Cape Cod

[ For A.B. ]


The eastern tip of the Empire dives into night;
cicadas fall silent over some empty lawn;
on classic pediments inscriptions dim from the sight
as a finial cross darkens and then is gone
like the nearly empty bottle on the table.
From the empty street's patrol car a refrain
of Ray Charles' keyboard tinkles away like rain.

Crawling to a vacant beach from the vast wet
of ocean, a crab digs into sand laced with sea lather
and sleeps. A giant clock on a brick tower
rattles its scissors. The face is drenched with sweat.
The streetlamps glisten in the stifling weather,
formally spaced,
like white shirt buttons open to the waist.

It's stifling. The eye's guided by a blinking stop light
in its journey to the whiskey across the room
on the nightstand. The heart stops dead a moment, but its dull boom
goes on, and the blood, on pilgrimage gone forth,
comes back to a cross road. The body, like an upright,
rolled-up road map, lifts an eyebrow in the North.

It's strange to think of surviving, but that's what happened.
Dust settles on furnishings, and a car bends length
around corners in spite of Euclid. And the deepened
darkness makes up for the absence of people, of voices,
and so forth, and alters them, by its cunning and strength,
not to deserters, to ones who have taken flight,
but rather to those now disappeared from sight.

It's stifling. And the thick leaves' rasping sound
is enough all by itself to make you sweat.
What seems to be a small dot in the dark
could only be one thing -- a star. On the deserted ground
of a basketball court a vagrant bird has set
its fragile egg in the steel hoop's raveled net.
There's a smell of mint now, and of mignonette.

. . .


The door is creaking. A cod stands at the sill.
He asks for a drink, naturally, for God's sake.
You can't refuse a traveler a nip.
You indicate to him which road to take,
a winding highway, and wish him a good trip.
He takes his leave, but his identical

twin has got a salesman's foot in the door.
(The two fish are as duplicate as glasses.)
All night a school of them come visiting.
But people who make their homes along the shore
know how to sleep, have learned how to ignore
the measured tread of these approaching masses.

Sleep. The land beyond you is not round.
It is merely long, with various dip and mound,
its ups and downs. Far longer is the sea.
At times, like a wrinkled forehead, it displays
a rolling wave. And longer still than these
is the strand of matching beads of countless days;

and nights; and beyond these, the blindfold mist,
angels in paradise, demons down in hell.
And longer a hundredfold than all of this
are the thoughts of life, the solitary thought
of death. And ten times that, longer than all,
the queer, vertiginous thought of Nothingness.

But the eye can't see that far. In fact, it must
close down its lid to catch a glimpse of things.
Only this way -- in sleep -- can the eye adjust
to proper vision. Whatever may be in store,
for good or ill, in the dreams that such sleep brings
depends on the sleeper. A cod stands at the door.

1975 / Translated by Anthony Hecht

A Part of Speech

26 January 2009

Joseph Brodsky

[from Joseph Brodsky's A Part of Speech, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1971]

Six Years Later

So long had life together been that now
the second of January fell again
on Tuesday, making her astonished brow
lift like a windshield in the rain,
        so that her misty sadness cleared, and showed
        a cloudless distance waiting up the road.

So long had life together been that once
the snow began to fall, it seemed unending;
that, lest the flakes should make her eyelids wince,
I'd shield them with my hand, and they, pretending
        not to believe that cherishing of eyes,
        would beat against my palm like butterflies.

So alien had all novelty become
that sleep's entanglements would put to shame
whatever depths the analysts might plumb;
that when my lips blew out the candle flame,
        her lips, fluttering from my shoulder, sought
        to join my own, without another thought.

So long had life together been that all
that tattered brood of papered roses went,
and a whole birch grove grew upon the wall,
and we had money, by some accident,
        and tonguelike on the sea, for thirty days,
        the sunset threatened Turkey with its blaze.

So long had life together been without
books, chairs, utensils -- only that ancient bed --
that the triangle, before it came about,
had been a perpendicular, the head
        of some acquaintance hovering above
        two points which had been coalesced by love.

So long had life together been that she
and I, with our joint shadows, had composed
a double door, a door which, even if we
were lost in work or sleep, was always closed:
        somehow its halves were split and we went right
        through them into the future, into night.

1969 / Translated by Richard Wilbur

A Part of Speech

25 January 2009

Terrance Hayes

[from Terrance Hayes's Wind in a Box, Penguin, 2006]

Wind in a Box

Even the dirt dreams of it now.
It is two roads along two rivers,
The sky above a mother's face

The day her husband leaves
For war. No blood and stars
But the blood and stars.

Let's find it and break its fucking neck,
Let's break its fucking jaw.
Let's break its fucking ganged in vessels

And if it pushes back and a tiny blue rises
On its cheek, let's break that too
Until stars dance in the corners

Of its eyes like white seeds
And let's break those too
Until all the words we know are split in two.

No power but the power of need.
Let's get up ready to feel.

God bless the rage in us.
It's how we know each other.
We who keep vigil by the windows,

We who pour ashes from the windows
Into the wind, skin passing over skin,
Let's walk up the hill and along the rows

That do not ask questions.
Near the white and yellow flowers,
Strangers are moored in sighs.

Soon it will rise without kissing
Anyone goodbye.
It says we will not be renewed,

We will not be filled
Like the birdhouse.
It says we will arrive unwashed.

Aren't you tired? Let's lie down.
Let's cry out and rest.

Wind in a Box (Poets, Penguin)

24 January 2009

Denise Levertov

[from Denise Levertov's The Sorrow Dance, New Directions, 1967]

As It Happens

Like dogs in Mexico,
furless, sore, misshapen,

arrives from laborious nowhere
Agony. And proves

to have eyes of kindness,
a pitiful tail; wants

love. Give it some, in form of
dry tortilla, it

grabs and runs off
three-leggéd, scared,

but tarries nearby and will
return. A friend.

To Speak

To speak of sorrow
works upon it
                    moves it from its
crouched place barring
the way to and from the soul's hall --

out in the light it
shows clear, whether
shrunken or known as
a giant wrath --
at least, where before

its great shadow joined
the walls and roof and seemed
to uphold the hall like a beam.

The Sorrow Dance

23 January 2009

Tyehimba Jess

[from Tyehimba Jess's Leadbelly, Verse, 2005]

mistress stella speaks

you think I'm his property
'cause he paid cash
to grab me by the neck,
swing me 'cross his knee
and stroke the living song from my hips.

you think he is master of all
my twelve tongues, spreading notes
thick as starless night, strangling spine
till my voice is a jungle of chords.

the truth is that i owned him
since the word love first blessed his lips
since hurt and flight and free
carved their way into the cotton
fused bones of his fretting hand,
since he learned how pleading men hunt
for my face in the well of their throats
till their tongues are soaked with want.

yes, each day he comes back
home from the fields,
from chain gang fury,
from the smell of sometime women
who borrow his body. he bends
his weight around me
like a wilting weed
drinking in my kiss
of fretboard across fingertip
'til he can stand up straight again,
aching from what he left behind,
rising sure as dawn.

blind lemon taught me

i remember a useless eyed street busker, twin holes shriveled small behind smoked spectacles, the parables he taught me in the troubled space between each note. sometimes, i would close my eyes, run my fingers through landscape where he'd placed his hands to solve the riddle of my features, his fingertips supple winged blackbirds, fluttering from brow to eyelash to cheek to chin, he found my true face, stretched those knuckle jointed roots from ebony trunk of wrist and ashen palm to grow as one with the wood of his twelve-string. there, he told how a man can trade pieces of himself for a song, an eye here, an ankle there, a ball if he's not careful, and the fret board's friction that turns silken skin to callus. i remember how he bottlenecked blues caught between the teeth of each tin pan alley tune, nailed it in a patent leather stomp, moved streetcorner crowds down another mile of his train tracked voice with every beat. i remember how every song stitched together my story, how he took something away when he discovered my face beneath his palms, gave it back on layaway plan of bent notes, bloodied moons.

leadbelly: poems (National Poetry Series)

Nadeem Aslam

[from Nadeem Aslam's The Wasted Vigil, Alfred A. Knopf, 2008]

Benedikt told her to wait as he went forward on his elbows to investigate, raising himself to a crouching position and then disappearing from view. She would never see him again or know what happened to him, what kind of life he walked into, what kind of death. The orchard was vast, and there were many others around it, but he had said he would find her easily because somehow they had ended up within a clump of three trees that were the only ones among the hundreds that were not in flower. She curled herself in the high grass and perhaps fell asleep beside the stolen Kalashnikovs. When next her mind focused, the voices out there had grown in number and dawn had arrived, and now she saw, as though hallucinating, that the branches above her had blossomed with the first rays of the sun, the late buds opening at last, hatching white-pink scraps against the clear blue of the sky.

The Wasted Vigil

22 January 2009

Sherod Santos

[from Sherod Santos's Greek Lyric Poetry, Norton, 2005]

Spirits of the Afterworld

     On them alone raw sunlight shines
beyond the darkness that forms our element here.
     The arable plains around them
are tufted with spreading incense trees, or brailled

     with tussocky, water-colored
pools of wildflowers coming into bloom.
     And as we hear, some of them ride
on horseback through the defile of a snow-

     fed falls, others wrestle or test
themselves in footraces down a gravel bar,
     still others gather over table games
or work out verses practiced on a lyre.

     And all day long a storied
gladness fills to overbrim their hearts,
     and a fragrance spooled
from ribboned braids of frankincense

     consecrates their altar fires.
Still, on the far shore of that great divide,
     a black and sluggish river
disgorges an endless, melancholy silt.


Greek Lyric Poetry: A New Translation

21 January 2009

Louise Gluck

[from Louise Gluck's The Seven Ages, Harper Collins, 2001]


Amazingly, I can look back
fifty years. And there, at the end of the gaze,
a human being already entirely recognizable,
the hands clutched in the lap, the eyes
staring into the future with the combined
terror and hopelessness of a soul expecting annihilation.

Entirely familiar, though still, of course, very young.
Staring blindly ahead, the expression of someone staring into utter darkness.
And thinking -- which meant, I remember, the attempts of the mind
to prevent change.

Familiar, recognizable, but much more deeply alone, more despondent.
She does not, in her view, meet the definition
of a child, a person with everything to look forward to.

This is how the others look; this is, therefore, what they are.
Constantly making friends
with the camera, many of them actually
smiling with real conviction --

I remember that age. Riddled with self-doubt, self-loathing,
and at the same time suffused
with contempt for the communal, the ordinary; forever
consigned to solitude, the bleak solace of perception, to a future
completely dominated by the tragic, with no use for the immense will
but to fend it off --

That is the problem of silence:
one cannot test one's ideas.
Because they are not ideas, they are the truth.

All the defenses, the spiritual rigidity, the insistent
unmasking of the ordinary to reveal the tragic,
were actually innocence of the world.

Meaning the partial, the shifting, the mutable --
all that the absolute excludes. I sat in the dark, in the living room.
The birthday was over. I was thinking, naturally, about time.
I remember how, in almost the same instant,
my heart would leap up exultant and collapse
in desolate anguish. The leaping up -- the half I didn't count --
that was happiness; that was what the word meant.

The Seven Ages

20 January 2009

Wanda Coleman

[from Wanda Coleman's Mercurochrome, Black Sparrow, 2001]


it's a verb drives verb world

where she huddles in his exhaust, tiny & deformed
governed by a flow of wonts

everything that runs on adjectives is stalled

street crimes abound -- the bump & run of fast gab
trunk thefts gagas drive-bys gagas snipings

don't lower your windows for well-dressed talk
don't stop in a residential zone to still sudden
develop a protective code of tongue when
one's vocabulary is arrested for DUI
act as if being possessed by adverbs is an everyday
       affair. don't
complain that the noun is too tight. keep
the eyes dotted. don't volunteer a syllable.

as for homonym invasion & trope jackings
avoid being a victim, remember: blowouts may
cause permanent syntax damage. stay in the right lanes
should a quick exegesis be mandatory

(pronounce it aloud, once, for yourself, put
a breath at the end of each sentence, thus
sustaining the wordsmith who may wag & wax
anew. speak in even tones, in a language so poor
it wouldn't pay to steal a phonon)

a survivor's whine to sweet soft grammars
coupled with rhetorical purrs -- held
neological hostage to used word dealers

chance driving on the rim of meaning. it's cheaper
to replace than a presumed sanity

full speed, blues ahead

Mercurochrome: New Poems

19 January 2009

Jane Kenyon

[from Jane Kenyon's From Room to Room, Alice James, 1978]

The Needle

Grandmother, you are as pale
as Christ's hands on the wall above you.
When you close your eyes you are all
white -- hair, skin, gown. I blink
to find you again in the bed.

I remember once you told me
you weighted a hundred and twenty-three,
the day you married grandfather.
You had handsome legs. He watched you
working at the sink.

The soft ring is loose on your hand.
I hated coming here.
I know you can't understand me.
I'll try again,
like the young nurse with the needle.

Year Day

We are living together on the earth.
The clock's heart
beats in its wooden chest.
The cats follow the sun through the house.
We lie down together at night.

Today, you work in your office,
and I in my study. Sometimes
we are busy and casual.
Sitting here, I can see
the path we have made on the rug.

The hermit gives up
after thirty years of hiding in the jungle.
The last door to the last room
comes unlatched. Here are the gestures
of my hands. Wear them in your hair.

From Room to Room: Poems

18 January 2009

C. Dale Young

[from C. Dale Young's The Second Person, Four Way, 2007]

This book contains so many good poems I almost couldn't choose one.


Maybe it is the pull
          of the violin
                   like the ocean itself

drawing us to its side,
          the sad memory
                   of something lost

and irretrievable
          but worthy of the search.
                   Skirting the dunes

this morning, the ocean
          just a sound drifting over
                   from the other side,

your melody returned
          to me unwarranted.
                   How could you

have known, Samuel Barber,
          that your violin concerto
                   could tell such a story?

But the story is such
          a common one, I suppose.
                   What begins as love

disintegrates after betrayal,
          transforms after grief
                   into something like the end.

Can you tell me, forgotten Master,
          great sandpiper scavenging
                   the shifting shoreline,

why your concerto, abstract
          as only Music can be,
                   should time and time again

offer such minor tragedy?
          Samuel Barber, whose concerto
                   was first deemed impossible,

you wrongly taught us that virtuosity
          was something attainable, something
                   only slightly out of reach.

Send me a sign, old man.
          Teach me how to stop playing
                   these scales of loss.

The Second Person: Poems (Stahlecker Series Selection)

17 January 2009

Lola Haskins

[from Lola Haskins's Hunger, Iowa, 1993]


The sky has fallen asleep over
Malham Tarn,
over the bare fields strewn with sheep,
over the bitten moors
where long-armed men passed stones up the steep
to set them one by one in walls,
while their hairy daughters crouched,
pounding grain with other stones,
by Malham Tarn where even then
the stars went in the day.
Here is the pay for long patience.
At the end of your thin line, something gleams.


The blank sockets of devilfish,
hung drying to the light, watch me
down the aisles of heavy papayas
like full breasts, follow me into
the tight hearts of onions, into
the mouths of ollas, with their damp
clay air. I rub them gone.
My view clears to the stripes
of a serape, braids itself down
the back of an old woman, who squats
behind red pots which nobody buys.
Her eyes, black as rain fallen
in a cenote, meet my eyes. My skin
rises. My brushes lift in their box.
I take her home, carry her, wrinkled
and light, over my threshold.
I buy all the red pots.

Hunger: Poems (The Edwin Ford Piper poetry award)

16 January 2009

Rae Armantrout

[from Rae Armantrout's Up to Speed, Wesleyan, 2004]


A new season
sweeps across the merchandise.

Paper products suggest harvest,
then fear of the dark.

Rows of palms
in stanchions

having little stake
in matter.

They flap their fronds weakly
as we revolve.


Is it true we deserve
any blow
we fail to anticipate?

A shadow traveling down a wall

is a maternal hand

while a maternal hand
is lavender-suffusing

and dusk itself,
a great tissue
of lies,

suffused with blood.


Three things are placed
in safety

on a created plane:

and the stop-gap palms
bellwether palms


with the transparent
of the nonexistent

fatalistic nomads
we half-dreamed
                      of being

En Route

We've re-authorized silence
as a bridge
between two notes --

so that we're always
"about to" or
"have just."


So that a magic school bus
through a haunted museum.


A small boy
stops his ears with both hands

then spreads his arms wide,

covers his eyes
then flings his hands apart

like a performer concluding a set.

"What does a cat say?"
his mother asks.

Up to Speed (Wesleyan Poetry)

15 January 2009

Djelloul Marbrook

[from Djelloul Marbrook's Far from Algiers, Kent State, 2008]

The Men's Room

Twenty of me in a mirrored room
don't figure to get through the night,
all their Etruscan heads teetering
on mortuarial bodies.
Something's worrying them,
an echo seen from the corner
of a stranger's eye, and stranger
is the iteration of a madness
not seen in the original. In fact,
the original must be posited
in the middle of a psychotic break.
Maybe the lemon-curried shrimp
accounts somehow for the disappearance
of a man so full of himself
at first he thought the world
needed twenty more of him,
but then he realized he's been divided
into twenty saddened parts.

Far from Algiers (Wick Poetry First Book, #14)

14 January 2009

Eric Pankey

[from Eric Pankey's Reliquaries, Ausable, 2005]


What I caught out of the corner of my eye might have been a vision,
       had I been a visionary.
In my idleness, I imagine the universe the size of a thimble, the whole
       condensed, a drop of dew,
A plasma so packed that nothing escapes, no heat, no light. It is cool
       to the touch.
Poured into my palm, it rolls about like mercury, but will not divide.
       Had I been a visionary,
I might have caught out of the corner of my eye the invention of time
       and its backdraft.


Nothing is lost, we are asked to believe, not the three horses that
       came to the fence for apples,
The Appaloosa, the sorrel, and the chestnut, that came freely and fed
       from our hands;
Not the delirious flight of the bottle-rocket that set the bramble
       hedge ablaze;
Not the hand drawn back to strike but then held motionless as if by
       an angel, as if by mercy;
Not the half life of the half-life of the half-life of the half-life graphed
       as an involuting spiral.


I stepped out of the fabric of time, but only for a moment, for a
       minute or two.
I stepped out of the fabric of time and my foot slipped on the last
       rung of the scala mystica.
On my way down, I forgot the cause, the form, the matter, and at last,
       the sphere of elements.
I had to relearn the names of the nettle, the thistle, the fire thorn and
       the bindweed.
I had to relearn to climb. To put one hand on a rung, then one foot . . .


Although it is midwinter, a housefly arisen, it seems, from nowhere,
       settles then dashes,
Ricochets off the window glass, retries, then rests on the sill, only to
In my idleness, I imagine the universe the size of a thimble, the whole
       condensed, a drop of dew.
In my idleness, I imagine the fly might one day discover a way
       through the glass,
And the miracle will not be the other side, but the constancy, the
       liquid simplicity of the passage.


13 January 2009

Brenda Hillman

[from Brenda Hillman's Pieces of Air in the Epic, Wesleyan, 2005]

Doppler Effect in Diagram Three

Waves past the meadow, meu viajante
The summer was almost straight
From cities from countries
It had straight-smelling shirts
Parentheses from the hawk a day sound
Only borders in its mouth
Almost no weather from its travels
The heat sing-ing-ing
A series of syllables not yet delivered
Families just beginning to gather
Or double gather like curtains
So much not enough you said
A hope inflected from the east
Something at rest about the waves not then
Someone swell to be remembered
In the theories of the address
Blue & the palindrome of a wave
Moving against the rest

The Earth's axis has been set aflame
The harlequin picks his teeth with a matchstick
It was called life in those decades
Dragonflies attached one per stalk
Like a music staff turned sideways
Papermill Creek before the death of paper
Incandescence is its own defense you said
Periodicity of a fear moving
Off from the too-bright years
A bike in the car its spokes turning
Click-click past goats & ravens
It's up to sounds like this to descend in size
To express surprise or terror
How does air feel with waves inside it
Does it feel more
With the radio on
How do the airwaves get through all the numbers
& how does the ( ( ( ( ( ( (( do it

In the model an observer stands on
The platform & we grow to love him
He is wild & is thinking of nothing
Let us call all of this observer A
There is a row of bending sounds
As the trouble curves rightward
Mr. Doppler is in heaven by now
A slim hush as the fat springs click
The men in burgundy shorts roll
The luggage carts away
People think they are you but they are not
You are you & no one & everything
The oscillating quality of dusk clashes with
What is universal just as the vowels
In a person's name clash with his handwriting
How lovely we seem as the passenger pulls away
With an identity among the abstracted
Pale diners who eat behind the cellophane

But in fact he is lost to us
As the page turner at a recital is lost
Or one who speaks of the Irish solution
Or names the roses Peace or Sally
When it starts being unbearable
Time won't pierce air with its skinny death feet
In the pulling away life is continuous
The worry hyphens inside the molecule
The sentence or the train passing
As it holds out its skirts of sound
The sentence has started its journey
But has no idea for its mystic demise
It rides in the firebox to the cave
Looking out at pines their raw huts
Bearing its constant falling
Over the laughter in the night pool of those
Who have not stopped & may not, ever

Pieces of Air in the Epic (Wesleyan Poetry)

12 January 2009

Michael Collier

[from Michael Collier's The Ledge, Houghton Mifflin, 2000]

Moon Valley Country Club

After he walked through the arcadia door, almost unscathed,
like a saint, like someone materializing out of the fifth
dimension, the wall of glass parting in thousands
of deadly splinters, falling in front and behind him,
he turned to all of us watching from Tim Sawdey's
living room, and straightening himself, extended
his arms in a full benediction, hands upturned
balancing beer cans like a chalice and ciborium,
and then he bowed and curtsied. And when
he straightened again, we could see the blood
drain from his face, cheeks and lips a gravid blue,
and his legs wobbly at the knees, so that when he stepped
back through the jagged maw of the door, as if to make
the glass reassemble, the breakage heal, he collapsed
on the patio and lay in sight of us, as if he'd come
a great distance out of the fairways and traps, skirting
the water hazards, and crossing the greens to perform this trick
and now it was time for him to lie down and sleep.

The Ledge: Poems

11 January 2009

A. B. Spellman

[from A. B. Spellman's Things I Must Have Known, Coffee House, 2008]]

Groovin' Low

my swing is more mellow
these days: not the hardbop drive
i used to roll but more of a cool
foxtrot, my eyes still close
when the rhythm locks; i've learned
to boogie with my feet on the floor
i'm still movin', still groovin'
still fallin' in love

i bop to the bass line now, the trap set
paradiddles ratamacues & flams
that used to spin me in place still set me
off, but i bop to the bass line now
i enter the tune from the bottom up
& let trumpet & sax wheel above me

so don't look for me in the treble
don't look for me in the fly
staccato splatter of the hot young horn
no, you'll find me in the nuance
hanging out in inflection & slur
i'm the one executing the half-bent
dip in the slow slowdrag
with the smug little smile
& the really cool shades

9/11/01 [excerpt]

. . .

                            our america
will refuse to sort the detritus
to find its own sin in it, but it lies there
smoldering, unexpiated by the flames
it's in the plain song of the new-made dead
who will chant it all the years that we live
we tilt the earth so the gold slides down
to us. we dress the starved illiterates
of the earth in the worst
of our culture & feign surprise
when they do not love us for it

Things I Must Have Known

10 January 2009

Nick Laird

[from Nick Laird's to a fault, Norton, 2005]

A Portrait of the Artist As a Joke

And yet slaughter may also be a plural of laughter . . .
-- Javier Rodrigues Rodrigues (translated by Joseph Coleman)

I've heard it told by someone else like this:
an Englishman, an Irishman, a Scot,
all down the Union, slaughtered, lairy, and

the rest's a slow ascending followed by a drop.
I smoked and skimmed the smeary glass,

my diving watch, the Guinness sign behind
the gin, and saw three grinning faces mouth:
Your man walks into a bar, an iron bar . . . ouch.


Midway there will be wishes, wives, islands
quietly deserted, jungle tribes, firing squads,
last requests and genies bottled in the jacks.

The finish sees the jars tide-marked, abandoned
to prehensile smoke, the ripped-out wiring

of air that hangs like gags told donkeys back
which weren't too great the first time round.
So please, no laughter, and please, no applause.


Each time a round unleashes glass into shocking,
solid rain, and the pub airpockets, shudders, roots,
there's an ovation into the bogs. Some fat fuck's

thumped in the gut and bundled away in a Corsa.
The moon, an unexpected exit wound, rises

to flood the carpark. Someone else can
expand about jokes and the unconscious,
and someone else can refer to the luck of the Irish.


In the rough to the left of the fairway
the same man who walked into the bar
lies doubled up in laughter.

The clownery of his ungentle, eggshelled face
is about to break into a grin,

the last one seen in sky-blue morning dress
astride his Samsung wide-screen.
Chances are someone else won't be starting with him.


The daymoon eases downward like a drop
of condensation, and golf caps advertising
legendary local names are doffed, then someone coughs,

clicks off the dawning chorus of his watch.
The secret of good comedy.

The way the horizon nearly stops
the moon's outstretched communion tongue,
like a punchline momentarily forgotten.

To a Fault: Poems

08 January 2009

Robert Creeley

[from Robert Creeley's On Earth: Last Poems and an Essay, University of California, 2006]

Later (Wrightsville Beach)

Crusoe again, confounded, confounding purposes,
cruising, looking around for edges of the familiar,
the places he was in back then,

wherever, all the old sand and water.
How much he thought to be there he can't remember.
Shipwreck wasn't thinkable at least until

after it happened, and then he began at the edge,
the beach, going forward, backward, until he found the place again.
Even years slipped past us in the background.

The water, waves, sand, backdrop of the houses,
all changed now by the locals, the tourists,
whoever got there first and what they could make of it.

But his story is real too, the footprint, the displacement
when for the first time another is there, not just imagined,
and won't necessarily agree with anything, won't go away.

On Earth: Last Poems and an Essay

Peter Gizzi

[from Peter Gizzi's The Outernationale, Wesleyan, 2007]


A child I became a question
sitting on the grass.
To be told how lucky I am.
An open field.
This corporeal expanse
was a body too
in silver magnetism.
If I became this light
it wasn't luck. It was easy.
Bells falling away
along the divide of night.
Along the divide of night
an old face. A sorry dormer
leaning in askew
below the incoming thunder.
This was true and even if ever
I ran away. I ran
away. Above everything
I held one true thing.
This scene moved through me,
a seesaw. A picture
inside a question inside
the coming night.
These trees rang
round my head, shored
up the sky. I went on
and on like a trial balloon
over the houses. Over
the roofs. Over my head.


To remember correctly
the color of pale grass in March,
its salt hay blonde flourish.
To see it as it was,
faded cloth, mute trumpet,
the seam inside a day
the sun climbs.
Simple the life of the mind
standing outside in the grass
in March. Outside memory.
Spring interrupts
one cardinal monody
transmuted by a signal red
developed against
a draining blue horizon.
To want to go there
and to have been there
and to be there now.
This walking right now
by a river, simple and not so clear
when transcribing this
unstable multiplying narrative spring.
It can't be called anything.
We too are sprung and wound
with evolution. I want to say.
That's it: love. Not spring.
I have felt it also
in quilted drowning snow
under the sheets
in a clanking house.
Clank, I love you.
Clank. Not spring.
Glossy grass wigging
in a brightening sky.
The thrill of hair
standing on my limbs.


To be and not to understand.
To understand nothing
and be content
to watch light against
leaf-shadowed ground.
To accept the ground.
To go to it as a question.
To open up the day inside the day,
a bubble holding air
bending the vista to it.
To be inside this thing,
outside in the grass place,
out in the day
inside another thing.

The Outernationale (Wesleyan Poetry)

06 January 2009

Benjamin Alire Sáenz

[from Benjamin Alire Sáenz's Dreaming the End of War, Copper Canyon, 2006]

The Fifth Dream: Bullets and Deserts and Border (excerpt)

. . .

I am the man.
I see clearly. I am
awake now.
It is me. It has taken me
a long time to know this.
I am a Palestinian.
I am an Israeli.
I am a Mexican.
I am an American.
I am a busboy in a tall building
that is about to collapse.
I am attending a Seder and I am
tasting my last bitter
herb. I am a boy who has learned
all his prayers. I am bowing
toward Mecca in a house
whose roof will soon collapse
on my small frame.
I am a servant. I shine shoes
and wash the feet
of the rich. I am an illegal.
I am a Mexican who hates all Americans.
I am an American who hates all Mexicans.
I am a Palestinian who hates all Israelis.
I am an Israeli who hates all Palestinians.
I am a Palestinian Jew who hates himself.

I am dying of all this knowledge.
I am dying of thirst.
I am a river that will never know water again.
I am becoming dust.


I am walking toward my home.
Mexico City? Washington?
Mecca? Jerusalem?
I don't know. I don't know.


I am walking in the desert.

I see that I am reaching a border.

A bullet is piercing my heart.

Dreaming the End of War

05 January 2009

Michael Dumanis

[from Michael Dumanis's My Soviet Union, University of Massachusetts, 2007]

Cancer Is a Disease of Animals

When she said she would rather cut
what was intimate out of her, out of her skin,
out of the frame she was in, cut it out,

her involvement with him, like a tumor,
when she said she would rather kill,
if not for shame, herself, than stay beside,

through the continuance on one damp sheet
of one more night, with him, that she'd rather die
than lay her shopworn body next to his again,

when she said, it's no use, we're like having a cancer
distend in and through me,
he wanted to say,
as he cut, for propriety's sake, himself off

from the saying of it, it's a beautiful thing,
and she, not having heard him, did not ask,
why must you mumble so, which thing, and he,

she not having asked him, could not reply, cancer,
I find cancer beautiful, were I to choose
a terminal illness to be, I would cancer,

not cystic fibrosis, not me, psoriatic arthritis,
would cancer and not beriberi what have you,
had I some say in it.
He would have liked

to mean by what he could not find the breath inside
the fog-and-wetness of his lungs enough to say,
the frenzy of it, cancer's sprawl and raw,

the spring of thing from nothing, the tense bloom
of the imperative of
give like moss on wall,
forsythia on snow, like wall on ivy.

He would have liked give up to lunge at her,
give in to push, onto a pillow, back her face,
to pull give give into his throat her breath,

to rent her body for an endlessness,
to cover her and swell and hold and say,
to whisper hi there under her left breast,

to fog-and-wetness her and say and hold,
to mean by what he could not find the breath inside,
to say and say until all matter ceased.

My Soviet Union: Poems (Juniper Prize for Poetry)

04 January 2009

Allison Adelle Hedge Coke

[from Allison Adelle Hedge Coke's Blood Run, Salt, 2006]


Multitudes facing Sun,     our
rough, broad extremities near touching.

Simultaneously attending
to receive warm embrace.

To welcome flower, water
swells behind my broad head.

At night bows gently resting;
preparing to greet new morn, to

raise me full glory to greet
strengthening summit -- daily heliotropism.

Motor cells, pulvinus, flex stem
below bud until flower opens

my yellow shawl fringe,
exposes seed, welcomes bee,

forever-facing forward until my passing.

Trade Story from the wouth speaks our
venerated image, Inca Sun.

My seed plenishes.

Blood Run (Earthworks S.)

03 January 2009

Ange Mlinko

[from Ange Mlinko's Matinées, Zoland, 1999]

The Difference Between a Ghost and an Angel

Harmless as couples the sense you get from this hiking trail for
natureloving neurologists (their mansions nearby); I touch nothing
as if in one of their living rooms, I've given our fig tree a haircut
for the journey up the street to cheaper digs: ho, there's a desk in the forest!
They say poison ivy trapped under your wedding ring's a common thing but
if I sit at it I'll come out a folksong about couples disappearing in the pines.
The Queen Anne's lace snowy dropped handkerchief of a larger, nameless
staghorn sumac's dirty red; if loving you means I'll have to marry you I'll do it
and suddenly the past is reassured it led to the future
the difference between a ghost and an angel a wilderness
of cat and cat litter, leave dropping, mugs chipping, bottles, cans,
dirty dishes, laundry, garbage pails and dustballs.

You go to bed before me; I am too afraid
to touch things in the woods; but the new light after moving
stimulates blossoms in a flowering houseplant
the mania from the steroid in combination with
red wine, vivarin, tylenol and restoril the sleeping pill
I confess so much sap like the whites of eyes
where I lopped off whole branches made me think
that the tree was hurting, as an ancestor would've.
But since, dark green leaves have revived much and thrived.

In between it was maki, wakame, and red bean ice cream
across from the shark tank, should an evening dress
be make of shark the remora would come with an attachment
patterned like a brake pad to belly up blissfully for a snooze
while the eel looked on, perpendicular to sleep
as passed by the crowd going to the Portuguese saint's day fair; after Mass
and dinner out and Shakespeare didn't blot, so rot, you cop;
we are one under the weather; come eat your sandwich.


02 January 2009


a 40-second video of 2008 from Eirik Solheim

Linda Gregerson

[from Linda Gregerson's Waterborne, Houghton Mifflin, 2002]

A History Play

Months later — I’d been cleaning
                            my desk —
                these bits of gold foil spilled to the ground

a second time, five-petaled blossoms of public
                unloosed from the folded playbill as in

August from the heavens at the Swan, Act
                to mark the child Elizabeth’s birth.

The old queen has been put aside (I am not
                            such a truant as not
                to know
), the new one’s doomed (the language

I have lived in
), the girlchild is herself
                            a sign of grace
                withheld. But look at these sumptuous

velvets with their branchwork and encrusted
                you’d think the hand of death would be afraid

to strike. That’s wrong. You’d think
                            that death
                had held the needle and dispensed the worm-

wrought thread. The players will be wanting their late
                            supper soon, while
                we — we two and our two girls —

set out across the footbridge on our way back
                The waterfowl will be asleep — they’re sleeping

already — their willow-strewn and fecal
                            island silent
                in the summer night. The past that for a moment

turned, backlit, thick
                            with presence, as though
                leading us somehow, in its very

inadvertence giving way to this
                            slight stench
                beneath a moon-washed bridge, the past

that has a place for us will know us by
                            our scattered
                wake. (A strange tongue makes) And morning

meanwhile yet to come (my cause
                            more strange
                the girls will have hot chocolate with their toast

and eggs. The play? (which we will talk about) Tenacious
                            in its
                praise and fierce in its elisions. So

father, mother (older than the cast-off queen), two
                            girls: an open book.
                And spilling from the binding, gold.

Waterborne: Poems

01 January 2009

Allen Grossman

[from Allen Grossman's Descartes' Loneliness, New Directions, 2007]

Rain on a Still Pond

She's come. -- Suddenly the room where I sit
feels emptier than before. If I look up now,
I will see her standing in the open door
gazing in toward me with her question.
And I am less because she's here, not more.

It is as when, on a summer afternoon,
raindrops begin to fall in utter silence
on a still pond. And a canoeist out there
lifts up his eyes and sees, looking at
the water, how water is falling into water.

A new solitude, until that moment
not known -- it is the empty universe
of her voice -- passes into my heart,
like vanishing into water. She says,
"When you return to the shore, canoeist,

and are rested from your journey, remember me.
Among the histories of rain I linger to hear,
I linger to hear your answer to my question:
How do you merit to live so long?"
Then I say to her: "Dilectissima, it is as when

the sky darkens imperceptibly and a wind
moves slowly, as great things do, high up in
trees at the shore, not yet touching the surface
of the still pond. And then one raindrop falls
on the still water, without sound, and makes a circle.

First one drop falls and makes a circle. Then
another, at a distance. The first circle is
larger than the second at the moment of
the appearance of the second, and lingers.
Then the pond is stricken by a third raindrop.

The second circle grows large. But the first
raindrop of the shower has disappeared.
A big wind descends upon the pond.
Time is told telling of our lives, each of us
appearing and disappearing." Once more

I hear her question. Or is it the wind.
"But how do you merit to live so long?"
And then she vanishes, water into water.
Turning from the door I sit alone
once more. But this time taught, as by a daughter.

Descartes' Loneliness

Visit Reginald Shepherd's blog for thoughtful remarks on Grossman and Shepherd's favorite Grossman poems.

John Hollander

[from John Hollander's Movie Going, and Other Poems, Atheneum, 1962]

Off Marblehead

A woeful silence, following in our wash,
fills the thick, fearful roominess, blanketing
      bird noise and ocean splash; thus always
           soundlessly, rounding the point we go

gliding by dippy, quizzical cormorants.
One black maneuver moving them all at once,
      they turn their beaks to windward then, and,
           snubbing the gulls on the rocks behind them,

point, black, a gang of needles against the gray
dial sky, as if some knowledge, some certainty
      could now be read therefrom. And if we
           feel that the meter may melt, those thin necks

droop, numbers vanish from the horizon when
we turn our heads to scribble the reading down
      on salty, curled, dried pages, it is
            merely our wearied belief, our strained and

ruining grasp of what we assume, that blurs
our eyes and blears the scene that surrounds us: tears
      of spray, the long luff's reflex flapping,
            crazy with pain, and the clenching sheet,

and, looming up, Great Misery (Named for whose?
When?) Island. Groaning, jangling in irons, crews
      of gulls still man a rolling buoy not
           marked on our charts. Overhead, the light

(impartial, general, urging of no new course)
spares no approving brightening for the sparse
      and sorry gains of one we hold to
           now, ever doubting our memory. But

no matter -- whether running before the wind
away for home, or beating against the end
      of patience, towards its coastline, still the
           movement is foolishly close to one of

flight, the thick, oily clouds undissolving, crowds
of sea birds, senseless, shrill, unappeased, no boats
      about, and, out to sea, a sickening,
           desperate stretch of unending dark.

Movie-Going, and Other Poems