31 March 2009

David Ignatow

[from David Ignatow's Shadowing the Ground, Wesleyan, 1991]


We are an aging couple
in a house surrounded
by silence, left
to ourselves to do with
our lives as we wish
in the security of our persons,
to act as we had wanted to
since youth -- freely
and spontaneously
towards one another,
given our lives'
long wish in old age,
lying in separate beds
in separate rooms.


I don't know which to mourn. Both have died on me, my wife and my car. I feel strongly about my car, but I am also affected by my wife. Without my car, I can't leave the house to keep myself from being alone. My wife gave me two children, both of whom, of course, no longer live with us, as was to be expected, as we in our youth left our parents behind. With my car, I could visit my children, when they are not too busy.

Before she died, my wife urged me to find another woman. It's advice I'd like to take up but not without a car. Without a car, I cannot find myself another woman. That's the sum of it.


Now I feel so far from you,
like an animal leaving its kill
to slink back into the woods.
I'll be gone in an instant,
sad, the work done, the soul
in need again of bright feathers
unstained by blood,
taming the sun
with their beauty.

I saw you die in me
the necessary death
of separation. We
became ourselves,
parted from one another,
and off I go now
back to beginnings
in the mess of leaves
and silences
when the leaves darken the day
and in closed fear
I worship an idol,
the self.


30 March 2009

Ivan Diviš

[from Ivan Diviš's The Old Man's Verses, translated by Deborah Garfinkle, Host, 2008]

In memory of Pavel Plavec

Pavel and I entered the cathedral in Passau,
ill-timed, late, that is, as the services were ending.
The fortissimo tutti of the world's largest organ
nailed me to the floor.
The institution driving lambs to the fold
with these ear-splitting contraptions, not Christ?
And where did He remain? I asked myself in disbelief,
with the character trait engrained in me,
backed up by everything I've known
and scrutinized through and through? And where is He?
And right there He stirred in my breast.
I was flooded with warmth. Come, he said --
and we left. It was September, the month
in which I celebrate my birth.
The pristine trees were clinging to their stiff leaves.
With a clap, a flock of doves took off
like a gunshot.


I tried sticking a hair into a pool,
but it didn't work. The strand buckled on the surface.
I got up and took the strand to a wall made of vanadium steel
six meters high and darkly glinting.
I tried sticking the strand into this bulletproof wall
and, at once, on the very first try, the strand penetrated it.
I felt it poking out on the other side.
I had triumphed because the city on the wall's other side
lay in ashes smitten by the unexpected shock of the blow.
I hear the slight rustling of the pages of a dream-book as if
a child were wailing.


The Old Man's Verses

29 March 2009

Juan Felipe Herrera

[from Juan Felipe Herrera's Night Train to Tuxtla, University of Arizona, 1994]

Zeta [excerpt]

. . .

By nightfall, we had ended up in Panama City, stopped at a cafe. Zeta mumbled something about trekking twenty-five kilometers further south. We rested and smoked. Then he made a call and got directions to Edgar's place in the hills. Edgar would fill us in -- we were close, he said.

In the morning we found Edgar barely alive in a small village. . . .

Crawling through the smoking corn slush, pushing my boots down on the blackened sod, then Zeta found Edgar ahead of me. Bullets burned in his right thigh. A gaping hole by his shoulders. Edgar was dreamy and spurted words as best as he could, pointing ahead to a river. The villagers had fled to the border river, he said. Old farmers, women, and children shot down by American soldiers -- Edgar kept on repeating this and pointed again; there had been helicopters. Zeta went further. He disappeared and then came up holding the hand of another body along the field.

It was raining -- hard rain smashing the wide, red-flared plant leaves along the small roads. I could hear the mad ticking all around and inside of me. The sky lowered and then unraveled its dark knots that had been tightening since dusk and then, thunder. All the tiny things in the earth below were loosening with a music of their own -- little bones in water letting go of their cargo. Suddenly, all around us, the cornfields whitened in a sharp, strange light, a pure light. Zeta! His arms came up, caught in a storm of flickering sheaths, little blazing shards, his face slowly going to the side and the torso -- stretching, curling at the edges, the thousand brilliant translucent shells falling to his feet -- in a millisecond, not far from me; I lost Zeta to this light.

. . .

Norteamérica, I Am Your Scar [excerpt]

Get out of my walled infinity
of the star circle round my heart.

               Vasko Popa

My friends grab at their shoulders
at odd times. So do I.

There is something eating at the ligaments.

We crouch as if in a snow blizzard.
A stranger's blue wool weighs on us.

And somehow, we still lift
our delicate fingers;
a true gentleness moves.

Our portraits hang on the precipice.

A crazy quill left
for an old woman's barbed hook
undulates inside the small of our back.

It is hard to walk, like this.

It makes us sullen, silent,
with rough lips dying from madness but,
then, our hair that refuses to stop growing
pounds its black tubing into the sea,

making room for a forest or
a desert of terrible ink.

And there we sing, at last;
a fang with lightning;

a half-sun breaking from the second story of a tidal wave;
this unfinished stone fist novel unraveling all its wetness.

A quarry knife
I carry, for you. You take it now.

. . .

This is my village, full of crosses, swollen, dedicated to your industry
groomed in your spirit of bank flowers and helicopter prowls.

I want to say good-bye Big Man.
I want to say farewell Holy Jaw.

But you see, there is very little left to do, now,
except go to the park and relax with you; take your hand
in the shape of my hand

and point with the powdery grace of night,
point to the phosphor crescent on your palm, this scar
you say you got from hunting wild game

somewhere in the South, when you used to dream
above saguaro and when you towered over
the wire coils across the endless borders
and military bridges into my anguish,
into my resentments.

I point there because you will find me
in a shape so familiar, so close to you;

in your language, in your chequered English neckties,
in your translucence and your innumerable notes of ash
and penitence; I point there, you

strong man with a sanguine palm tree leaf
jutting from the robes you wear. The ones we make
withour daily smoke of washerwoman wax.

Listen to me.
Your scar speaks to you.

Your dreams know the scar very well,
there, the scar lives with its bulbous velvet root on fire.
Let's walk together, in this light.

Tonight there will be an animal fair
somewhere in this curled-up nation.
Look there.

This is the age of the half-men
and the half-women.

I say to you, now, I celebrate
when we shall walk with two legs once again
and when our hands shall burst from your hands.

Night Train to Tuxtla (Camino Del Sol)

28 March 2009

Lyn Hejinian

[from Lyn Hejinian's Saga / Circus, Omnidawn, 2008]

[two instances of Chapter Two (2) from "Lola"]

Chapter Two

Maggie Fornetti walks by quickly in her left hand holding an iPod adjusting her headphones with her right.

Askari Nate Martin's calm strikes Maggie Fornetti as hostile.

He can imagine her going off to some weird place no one's ever heard of and coming back with an exotic wolfish sort of cat or rodent to exhibit before some startled audience forming a circle around the thing.

Askari Nate Martin is troubled, Maggie pretends not to see him hoping he will greet her, he nods indifferently and passes by unhappily.

Maggie tends to listen to pieces of music until she can no longer hear anything of them except her responses to her experiences of them which are often more of things or thoughts that occur while she's listening than of the pieces exactly, she thinks, in pieces.

When causes can't be repeated, you infer them from effects.

. . .

Chapter 2

Maggie busily dissipates her doubts as to Nate's feelings by writing him a note in which she says nothing of her doubts or of his feelings, she says, I think the fog is in love with the sun, they're in an embrace, but the heat of the sun will soon send the fog on its way, and after that the afternoon will be hot as you'll see me scribbling this hastily before going down the fair hill by the trail through the poppies to the library to say thanks for the CD, see you around, this takes several cold drafts.

She's been here before.

Then quicker than the eye can blink now the trail is just like the trail as it was then but the one after that appears a shade darker.

The dogs up the hill come down their legs lingering.

It's not rare to see a beast flicker.

It's dimly maritime.

Maggie's often hearing the alarm this day she's walking.

This days she keeps her eye on the ground behind her.

The furtive detective is Askari Nate Martin as he leaps into shadows remaining out of view of the inside of the head of Maggie Fornetti just as the late afternoon light's pauses now move on.

He scowls in rage to warm the fingers at least that's an option, an opinion, however groundless.

Look shout the children in the grammar school playground from their swings that cross in the air.

Look out shout the curmudgeons and the charmers to the veering armies they imagine disappearing into the seemingly swarming dusk.

The sky hovers like a nurse over a wounded man putting her mouth to his ear.

It's just like a turkey vulture, thinks Tio Levette, to expect something always to turn up dead.

Not to put it off not to be put off -- it's unthinkable to Maggie Fornetti to think that Askari Nate Martin is unobligingly indifferent and so differently obliged to love, she thinks, not Maggie Fornetti.

Saga / Circus

27 March 2009

Todd Boss

[from Todd Boss's Yellowrocket, Norton, 2008]

The Day Is Gray and the Lake

shifts, mercurial,
like modeling clay,

the million thumbs
of wind at work upon it,

the artist unable to come
to a single conclusion.

Just what shape should
this cold lake take

this morning?
And the trees surrounding?

The maker can't
make up his mind, always

fussing. He shuffles
the shoreline shadows

like a paint-chip deck.
The reeds.

The nervous birds.
The toads, forever lost

on mud's malleable maps.
Everything's a mess

and genius all at once,
a school for unruliness.

Even the stones second-
guess themselves, eroding.

And there: a wash of sunshine,
and some people, boating.

Yellowrocket: Poems

26 March 2009

Jan Clausen

[from Jan Clausen's essay "The Political Morality of Freedom" from her Books & Life, Ohio State University, 1989]

I was violently attacked when I was jogging near Prospect Park in Brooklyn, by a man who dragged me into the park and started choking me, and I was struggling and as all this was going on, I heard in my head lines from the Susan Griffin poem "Breviary," lines which go, "She fought / him off and she lived." It's about a woman who's attacked by a man who stabs her repeatedly, and there's this line, "She fought / him off and she lived." And I'm not saying I was struggling in that situation because that poem came to me, but I thought afterwards, you know, in fact I did struggle and the man did run away. And that poem was there. And it was a fascinating example to me of how something can get embedded in your consciousness, how poetry might be there working under the surface in all kinds of situations you would never anticipate. I wonder what if I'd only had Yeats's poem that goes, "Did she put on his knowledge with his power / Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?" to fall back on.

And I'm somebody who inveighs against the idea that poetry is useful. But since this experience I'm willing to concede that it may in face be useful on occasion. Maybe we simply can't count on it to be useful. We don't know when it will be.

Books & Life

Matthew Dickman

[from Matthew Dickman's All-American Poem, American Poetry Review, 2008]


The skinny girl walking arm-in-arm
with her little sister
is wearing a shirt that says
and I want to,
I want to put my bag of groceries down
beside the fire hydrant
and whisper something in her ear
about long division.
I want to stand behind her and run
a single finger down her spine
while she tells me about all her correlatives.
Maybe she'll moan a little
when I tell her that x equals negative-b
plus or minus the square root
of b-squared minus 4(a)(c) all over
2a. I have my hopes.
I could show her my comic books
and Play Station. We could pull out
my old D&D cards
and sit in the basement with a candle lit.
I know enough about Dr. Who
and the Star Fleet Enterprise
to get her shirt off, to unbutton her jeans.
We could work out String Theory
all over her bedroom.
We could bend space together.
But maybe that's not what she's asking.
The world's been talking dirty
ever since she's had the ears to listen.
It's been talking sleazy to all of us
and there's nothing about the hydrogen bomb
that makes me want to wear a cock ring
or do it in the kitchen while a pot of water boils.
Maybe, with her shoulders slouched
the way they are and her long hair
covering so much of her face,
she's asking, simply, to be considered
something more than a wild night, a tight
curl of pubic hair, the pink,
complicated, structures of nipples.
Maybe she wants to be measured beyond
the teaspoon shadow of the anus
and the sweet mollusk of the tongue,
beyond the equation of limbs and seen
as a complete absolute.
And maybe this is not a giant leap
into the science of compassion, but it's something.
So when I pass her
I do exactly what she has asked of me,
I raise my right hand and make a V
the way Vulcans do when they wish someone well,
hoping she gets what she wants, even
if it has to be in a galaxy far away.

All American Poem (APR Honickman 1st Book Award)

25 March 2009

Jan Clausen

[from Jan Clausen's essay "The Political Morality of Freedom" from her Books & Life, Ohio State University, 1989]

The endeavor to be good works against the operations of the imagination in at least two ways. On an obvious level, it confirms that deep down we think we are bad. The imagination is dangerous, therefore, because it springs from our erring nature undisciplined by conscious control. As I observed in Part I of this essay, such a reaction is sometimes evident in the politics of language debate, when feminists behave as though words were capable of unleashing an evil force. The most exhaustive feminist discussion of the dangers of the imagination has certainly been in the context of the sexuality controversy, in the course of which some women have suggested that we should be training ourselves not to have politically retrograde fantasies.

Though it has rarely been discussed so openly or heatedly, the issue of imagination in fiction is, I think, closely related. For fiction, like desire, cannot really be made "safe." Though we may not choose to publish every word or perform every sexual act that pops into our heads, neither can we, so to speak, run out in front of our imaginations and arrange their contents to conform with our mere ideas. If we cease to give feeling plenty of leeway, we will be dealing with hackwork and correct sex, not fiction and desire.

The second way in which an effort to be good may thwart the imagination is by reinforcing that fundamental distrust of the imaginative act itself which I alluded to earlier. The basic idea here is an old one in western culture: that virtue and pleasure are incompatible. There may in fact be some psychological link between fictive imagination and sexual fantasy, and therefore a taste of the forbidden in the former as in the latter. I know that a puritanical part of me suspects there's something not quite right about the intense pleasure I derive from conjuring up scenes and situations which, though their taproot is sunk in the stuff of my real life, exist not of necessity as real life seems to do, but because I have chosen them. And I infer from observing the hostility with which imagination's fruits are sometimes treated that others share my suspicions.

Books & Life

Lori Anderson

[from Lori Anderson's Cultivating Excess, Eighth Mountain, 1992]

Day 124

Bailey's boot grease warmed on the back burner.
My fingers dipped into the hot belly of the can --
anointed, then taken first to the black tongue
that bears the wounds of restraint, of laces taut
to keep the boot from being swallowed
by mud of a forest in which it might rather stay
(more so there with mosses than in a closet,
more so than on my foot walking it to sure death).
O that these moments in hand would be enough
to mend with mink oil the scars of misstepping.
I'd end this, bed you down in a soft bog
if not for work and want of woods to walk.
But you are not without recourse, you hard heel.


"If I only knew how to disappear, there would be perfect
union of love between God and the earth I treat, the sea I
                             -- Simone Weil

The landscape lacked nothing except Simone Wheel
(she be ideal, she be idea, she be I-dead)
lacked nothing save perhaps a sax.
So, in whimsy, I hiked her back. Baby
this here is Buck Mt. -- one big riff between
God's earth & God's water. I tried not to be

flippant, but. . . . she be
dead-I, she be invented-I. Weil,
explain this: union is between
God & ________. Earth-I is deadly?
Put your hand here: feel my beating, my breathing. Baby,
you didn't really want to live with so little sex --

little syllogisms your sax.
At the summit, when waterscapes began being
a full skirt about us, I turned to name a baby
pond, her very clit, to make her wheel.
She disappeared. Who was I to disturb the deadness,
the roar of heaven / earth, the union between

creator / creation between idea / I-dead between
the rift the rift? Oh that iphigenial sax
sucks. I tinwhistled "I-deal-dead-
I" all the way down to a motorboat being
revved up. I begged to be a water wheel
buoyant like in a dreamsong that babies.

Last night, I got Bulgarian women with bambinos
singing a bandito-I-I-I-I, a harmony between
sleep and wake, distortion disappearing like Weil.
I was smug and keenly aware of sex.
My walk had a wiggle the way I wanted Weil to be --
so her authority, her annihilation would lose its deadening

pull on me. Weil, I will not be saxoned
into scalding my feet or forgetting to eat.
Between the sea-I-hear & the girls-I-kiss, my sax
and me sing: If a genie, I owe I owe. If be genie, I owe.

Cultivating Excess

24 March 2009

Gabriel Gudding

[from Gabriel Gudding's Rhode Island Notebook, Dalkey Archive, 2007]

9.20.02 - 9.22.02


2:10 PM 9.20.02 Out of
the sportscars of
the asteroids
are no sad fathers
no little wools, no sheep, no great doors:
are no daughters, nor wolves
the daughters fear, nor are
daughters on a plate of moon
to wonder
how their fathers are.

Put this book now
large format Strathmore
sketch pad
on passenger seat go to Rhode Island

. . .

Punitive use of ordnance against
       my pimple

As if a bell had rung deep in my face
and my jaw vibrated w/ it
my jaw's reverberation from the bell
that had rung coldly beneath my
bone (zygoma) the vibration's paths became complex
when they entered the 6 flaps of
skin that delimit the front and sides
of my face namely my ears, the
2 circular flaps of epidural constitutive of
my nostrils, & the 2 intricate
flaps of muscle that are
the facial labia. beneath my nostrils

a mouth being a toothed bubble. exordium

Had the bombing reduced the ability of
my face to display affect?

. . .

the tongue, that flip arbiter of
want and language. that
deft electrical flap. That
welcome mat of the head.

. . .

Is not that a saint or sadness hanging
in that rack of cloud? It looks
like a mandorla in the sky
above prim, historical Connecticut. Or
is it a pipe organ?

. . .

Ears are like an early kind of
seashell stapled to
sides of our heads
Lewisburg PA 365 m fr. Prov.
near Exit 210 80 w

The left & right versions of the
seashell are the male & female sexes
of the species   and yr head
is the mechanism they use to mate
Yr head is in fact a pod utilized
to facilitate the mating of yr ears.
They are copulating right now, behind yr
face, somewhere just above -- & slightly
behind   yr. throat.

My jaws are ransacking yr lips.
393 m fr. Providence those impressive
immense cut-cakes of cliffs.
It is not even my lips that are
searching & rummaging over yrs
It is my whole jaw. My very head is
frisking yr head   searching the 2
fleshy grenadiers posted at the gatehouse
of yr talk yard.

. . .

My favorite instrument is the pipe organ.

Back in Connecticut
the Cathedrals resemble toaster ovens
A chapel is an eagle bakery

. . .

Buzz Aldrin, 72 yrs, punches
37 yr old man debunker of moon

1096.6 m fr. Prov arrive Normal

Rhode Island Notebook

23 March 2009

Carolyn Kizer

[from Carolyn Kizer's Mermaids in the Basement: Poems for Women, Copper Canyon, 1984]

[excerpt from "Pro Femina"]

. . .

I was planting a new lot of corn and pumpkin
When a young chief arrived, laden with pineapple plants.
I set them out as I talked to him on the way home.
Rats and a wild hen ate the corn. Lettuce got too much sun.
So I dug a new patch up the road; in the fragrant evening
I confided to Louis, a puff of the sweetest scent
Blows back as I cast away a handful of so-called weeds!

It still hurts, his remark that I have the soul of a peasant.
My vanity, like a newly-felled tree, lies prone and bleeding.
I clear the weeds near the house for planting maize.
Sweet corn and peas are showing. I send for more seeds.
I clean out the potatoes, which had rotted in their hills.
Of course, RLS is not idle; he is writing A Footnote to History:
How the great powers combine to carve up these islands.

I discovered the ylang-ylang tree: a base for perfume,
Though it suggested to me the odor of boots.
Another tree is scented like pepper and spice,
And one terrible tree, I am forced to say,

Smells like ordure . . . It nearly made me ill.
Breadfruit is plentiful. I found a banana grove,
Began clearing it instantly, and worked till I was dizzy.

The garden looks like a graveyard: beds shaped like tombs.
I plant cabbage which I loathe, so the British won't tease me
For not growing it. But behold! in the hedge
Among citron and lime, many lemon trees, in full bearing.
Still, I will fall to brooding before the mirror,
Though Louis says he finds the peasant class "interesting."
He is forty today. I am ten years his senior.

On the cleared land, the green mummy-apple,
Male and female, is springing up everywhere.
I discover wild ginger, turmeric, something like sugar.
Roots of orange, breadfruit and mango, seeds of cacao
Came with a shipment from Sydney; also eleven
Young navel orange trees. The strawberry plants are rotten.
I am given a handful of bees. I plant more pineapple.

All fall I am cursed with asthma, rheumatics, a painful ear.
Christmas. A hurricane. And the New Year begins.
Louis describes it divinely to Henry James.
Mr. Carruthers' gift pineapple starts to fruit.
I set out one precious rhubarb plant, pause to gloat
At the ripe tomatoes, the flourishing long-podded beans.
But the neighbors' horses break in and trample the corn.

Sometimes, when planting, a strange subterranean rumble
-- Volcanic? -- vexes the earth beneath this peasant haunch.
I rise up from my furrow, knuckle smooth my brow
As I sniff the air, suddenly chemical, a sulphurous fume.
Louis insisted on going to Sydney, fell ill again.
His mother comes back with him, finds me on my knees.
The old lady's heart leaps! Alas, I am planting, not praying.

. . .

Mermaids in the Basement

22 March 2009

Mina Loy

[from Mina Loy's The Lost Lunar Baedeker: Poems, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1996]

The Effectual Marriage
The Insipid Narrative
Gina and Miovanni

The door was an absurd thing
Yet it was passable
They quotidienly passed through it
It was this shape

Gina and Miovanni             who they were God knows
They knew      it was important to them
This being of who they were
They were themselves
Corporeally        transcendentally        consecutively
conjunctively        and they were quite        complete

In the evening they looked out of their two windows
Miovanni out of his library window
Gina from the kitchen window
From among his pots and pans
Where he so kindly kept her
Where she so wisely busied herself
Pots and Pans        she cooked in them
All sorts of sialagogues
Some say        that happy women are immaterial

So here we might dispense with her
Gina being a female
But she was more than that
Being an incipience        a correlative
an instigation of the reaction of man
From the palpable to the transcendent
Mollescent irritant of his fantasy
Gina had her use        Being useful
contentedly conscious
She flowered in Empyrean
From which no well-mated woman ever returns

Sundays        a warm light in the parlor
From the gritty road          on the white wall
anybody could see it
Shimmered a composite effigy
Madonna         crinolined       a man
hidden beneath her hoop
Ho for the blue and red of her
The silent eyelids of her
The shiny smile of her

Ding dong         said the bell
Miovanni           Gina called
Would it be fitting for you to tell
the time for supper
Pooh        said Miovanni       I am
Outside time and space

Patience said Gina      is an attribute
And she learned      at any hour to offer
The dish         appropriately delectable

What had Miovanni made of his ego
In his library
What had Gina wondered     among the pots and pans
One never asked the other
So they     the wise ones     eat their suppers in peace

Of what their peace consisted
We cannot say
Only that he was magnificently man
She insignificantly a woman who understood
Understanding       what is that
To each     his entity     to others
their idiosyncrasies     to the free expansion
to the annexed     their liberty
To man his work
To woman his love
Succulent meals     and an occasional caress
                    So be it
                                                   It so seldom is

While Miovanni thought alone in the dark
Gina supposed that peeping       she might see
A round light      shining      where his mind was
She never opened the door
Fearing that this might blind her
Or even
That she should see     Nothing at all
So while he thought
She hung out of the window
Watching for falling stars
And when a star fell
She wished       that still
Miovanni would love her to-morrow
And as Miovanni
Never gave any heed to the matter
He did

Gina was a woman
Who wanted everything
To be everything in woman
Everything everyway at once
Diurnally variegate
Miovanni always knew her
She was Gina
Gina who lent monogamy
With her fluctuant aspirations
A changeant consistency
Unexpected intangibilities
Miovanni remained
Monumentally the same
The same Miovanni
If he had become anything else
Gina's world would have been at an end
Gina with no axis to revolve on
Must have dwindled to a full stop

In the mornings she dropped
Cool crystals
Through devotional fingers
Saccharine        for his cup
And marketed
With a Basket
Trimmed with a red flannel flower
When she was lazy
She wrote a poem on the milk bill
The first strophe       Good morning
The second        Good night
Something not too difficult to
Learn by heart

The scrubbed smell of the white-wood table
Greasy cleanliness        of the chopper board
The coloured vegetables
Intuited quality of flour
Crickly sparks of straw-fanned charcoal
Ranged themselves among her audacious happinesses
Pet simplicities of her Universe
Where circles were only round
                                             Having no vices.

     (This narrative halted when I learned that the
house which inspired it was the home of a mad
                                        -- Forte dei Marmi)

The Lost Lunar Baedeker: Poems of Mina Loy

21 March 2009

Rochelle Owens

[from Rochelle Owens's The Joe Chronicles Part 2, Black Sparrow, 1979]

Lugalennemundu, He Sends a Letter

                                     Dear Dehumanizing
                                     Dear Woman
what is good?
                             Look! Spread the contours
                     of the brain backward

                     O Fish when will you find God?
when will you find

                         the tits of the
                         Angel of Death
                                             the False God's secret
                                             Air the consuming

                         Dear fiend
                         Dear uncircumcised             One.

                         Oh Child What Is Good?

                         The Question remains
                         on this point

                         At the center of the

                                             Deplorable machine
At the center
Dear Hell
                     deplorable machine
                             the tits of the
                             Angel of Death
                             Evil Yezer                 Help

         art or humanity

                             old-fashioned propa/ganda.

                                             signed your friend
                                 King Lugalannemundu

Joe Chronicles Part 2

20 March 2009

Rochelle Owens

[from Rochelle Owens's New and Selected Poems: 1961-1996, Junction, 1997]

Penobscot Bird

                         tending palpa
                 bility, outer tingling season
     wading bird, last year's, upright and red
rude up and down, against calf of the leg. super
             stitious Only showing organism
                         and the raised filthy head,
                             or back, pepped into a seed, his illusion
shot, folded into shit, seeking between soft food and
                                 a light and a lilac.
                 it is inherited of the Penobscot bird.
                                     and on the end bean meal
                           fluke, rigid like a piping teacher-bird, again
jingling, cultivated joint-worm, white chattering, pantingly,
                         excessing sex, preening
                             for inch and a half red larvae.

[excerpt from "Stimuli Graft"]

. . .

Da Vinci squares his hands

pressing the canvas coldly      his
strained thorax decodes arranges
a presentiment      sketched on a
sheet of paper I look on

water salt protein      artful
I turn this sentence into doubt space
a rim of melancholy

the old master felt a longing
subtle color through your light brown

rolled her moon-gray shoulders lazily
Lenny painted a pale yellowish red tropical

my love gallops sand Lenny benignly
draping a white cloth sketching the frontal

a depressed & inhibited prostitute
herself available coldly he advised
traces of the useless dissection sighed
Da Vinci slowly you maneuver aspects of
the atelier I came across the pattern

a pigeon stuffed into a niche flying
into it by accident slowly I abandon

you manipulate the ligament patiently
slowly you sketch preserving the sharp
edge geometrical my face looks gray
I paid a heavy debt a woman on the loose
her solemn legs under the coarse folds

peasant dress & slanting smile soft flap
of the leather sandals

the turning of my interest from
art to science

you waste the daylight

when he dissected cadavers of horses
& human beings and built flying

I comfortably sit before my work
attentive only drifting only the paint
patient slow during days angling

the slow molecular smile

during the long period      the master
occupied himself

Mona Lisa del Gioconda

the sun would not have blazed
nor the trees greened

a curious kind of derangement
and the peculiar glance

the folds of the dress

Flora said she could not bring
herself      visualizing      old age folds
& wrinkles

I say just do it coldly

New & Selected Poems, 1961-1996

19 March 2009

Philip Schultz

[from Philip Schultz's Deep within the Ravine, 1984, Viking Penguin]

[excerpt from "The Hemingway House in Key West"]

. . .

There is something dark in my nature.

One night I woke to see my father staring
out of my bedroom window. "Papa," I cried
as he turned to show me the fire fading
in his eyes like a pilot light. Our shadows
locked like clock hands as he whispered,
"I am bankrupt . . . there's something I must tell you . . . "
but he said nothing & the next morning I found his body
in a bed soaked with urine & his eyes staring at the ceiling
as if asking a last question the silence would never answer.

All my life I have wondered what he meant to tell me.

Deep within the Ravine: 2

18 March 2009

Diane Wakoski

[from Diane Wakoski's The Archaeology of Movies and Books Volume I: Medea the Sorceress, Black Sparrow, 1991]

[excerpt from "Rosenkavalier (Knight of the Rose)"]

. . .

Famous for 15 minutes.
Postmodern fate.
Steel Man offers The Silver Surfer
some of his popcorn, but movie theaters
defraud you: they draw you into a world
which is only light play. No matter how many
times you watch a flick, it is never more
than a woman wearing a black lacy
garter belt over her creamy linen-finish
bond paper thights; never more than
this beautiful woman meeting you at the
train station in Vienna
with her, also white as paper, sweet
dog on a leash, his paws like splayed
garlic bulbs, nails clicking on
the stone floors of the train station;
never more than images which seem
less interesting, each time that you see them.
You leave the theater fat
from the popcorn and thin
from the film which has no angels,
no devils, but is a fraud. "Wait, before you dismiss
it," I hear Maverick calling over my shoulder.

. . .

Medea the Sorceress (The Archaeology of Movies and Books, V. 1)

Diane Wakoski

[from Diane Wakoski's The George Washington Poems, Riverrun, 1967]

George Washington and the Loss of His Teeth

the ultimate
in the un-Romantic:
false teeth
                 This room became a room where your heaviness
                 and my heaviness came together,
                 an overlay of flower petals once new and fresh
                 pasted together queerly, as for some hady's hat,
                 and finally false and stiff, love fearing
                 to lose itself, locks and keys become inevitable.

The truth is that George cut down his father's cherry tree,
his ax making chips of wood so sweet with sap they could be
sucked, and he stripped the bark like old bandages
from the tree for kindling.
In this tree he defied his dead father,
the man who could not give him an education and left him to
suffer the ranting of Adams and others,
those fat sap-cheeked men who said George did not know enough
to be president. He chopped that tree --
it was no small one -- down and the dry leaves rustled
like the feet of cows on grass.
It was then that George lost his teeth. He
fell asleep next to his pile of kindling wood and dreamed
the old father came chasing him with a large penis swung over his
shoulder. But George filled his mouth with cherries
and swallowed the bleeding flesh
and spit out the stones in a terrible torrent at his father.
With the pits of the
came all of George's teeth,
pointed weapons to hurl from the mouth at his father,
the owner of that false cherry tree.

We all come to such battles with our own flesh,
spitting out more than we have swallowed,
thus losing part of ourselves.

You came to me thus
with weapons
                 and this room is strewn with dead flowers
                 that grew out of my breasts and dropped off
                 black and weak.
                 This room is gravelled with stones I dropped
                 from my womb, ossified in my own body
                 from your rocky white quartz sperm.
                 This room is built from the lumber of my thigh,
                 and it is heavy with hate.

George had a set of false teeth
made from the cherry wood. But it was his father's tree.
His lips closed painfully over the stiff set.
There is no question,
where you
got the teeth in your mouth.

George Washington Poems

17 March 2009

Diane Wakoski

[from Diane Wakoski's Discrepancies and Apparitions, Doubleday, 1966]

The Man Who Paints Mountains

You are cut off
like the Chinese hermit. You think of the snowy mountain,
look at your hand holding its cup of tea
and see the impossible comparison.
How can a word bring you close --
one brush stroke after another: the Tao does not give
everyman the same idea
of mountain.
Your brush stroke, with skill, glides into mountain
but will anyone ever know what you mean by it?

You are cut off
like the Chinese hermit. Each brush stroke gets smaller,
more precise:
but you have given up all hope of communication
and scarcely speak.
Mountain after mountain
fills your work. And they say, "Oh, yes,
he is the man who paints mountains."

[excerpt from "Discrepancies"]


And when I got too lonely,
after my hands were gone,
I would watch my empty shoes
standing on the floor.
They would walk places
at night.
Sometimes all my shoes would get together
and walk off double file --
the tallest heels
going first,
the lower heels following,
the sneakers would come next,
the sandals walking delicately last.
They would go solemnly on for miles
like the penguins
you told me about,
filing into Antarctica for miles
then turning around
at some arbitrary point
and following back.
Shoes, shoes,
you have led me through many
a sleepless night.
Thank you,

Discrepancies and Apparitions

16 March 2009

Diane Wakoski

[from Diane Wakowski's Coins and Coffins, Hawk's Well, 1962]

Dark Windows

The windows of my house are dark,
for a hawk has spread his wings over them.
I am frightened of the dark
and step out the door.
On to my gloved arm, I lift the hawk,
gently folding his outspread wings,
touching his feathers, soft as wind.
His body, feather-packed and tense with hooded fright,
makes only minute connection with my own --
his talons as separate metal hooks touching
what they must to hold, but yielding nothing
of the rust-feathered body,
I unveil the bird,
though the windows of my house are still dark.
He sits in tense immobility
and then
as sudden as a gust of wind,
he pecks out my eyes like two cherries.
I am blind,
the windows of my house forever dark. My arm
does not flinch from the rigid bird
gripping its leather branch
and again,
he furiously darts at me, taking pieces of flesh,
stinging chunks in his scissored beak
from my face,
my neck,
my uncovered white arm. Then, his fury spent,
and the smell of warm blood soothing his microscopic strained nerves,
I feel the weight of soft feathers released against
my covered arm
and nestle against my bleeding face.
Quiet is the wind.
The windows of my house
may be always dark,
but inside there is light enough for any man
to meet his own

Cock Fight under the Magnolias

Fighting cocks,
in the dark, grasp each other by the comb
and tug, energy ruffling the feathers of
old blood and new life.
One cock is struck; his eye dangles out of the socket
on a long red string.

Silent men,
in the night, stare at the spectacle, pausing
to light a cigarette, breathing tightly,
in accord with the lightning movement
of claw and beak,

Inhaling the tension of touch,
wishing the battle of the red bullets was their own
release. In despair,
we reach out, if only for the touch.
Steady hands manipulate their glowing cigarettes.

Coins & Coffins

15 March 2009

Fanny Howe

[from Fanny Howe's interview in Daniel Kane's What Is Poetry [Conversations with the American Avant-Garde], T&W, 2003]

I think for me poems are sentences, which may be why they are getting shorter. I love a complete sentence, and all that it contains in the way of balance and aspiration. I love prose sentences. But a whole poem of mine is a sentence composed of sound-lines (bars), each line being the equivalent of a complex word. Each sound-line floats in tandem with the next one. Each one is a word. The group of sound-lines or words forms a sort of sentence which is a poem.

A few words create together one word, and that word is on a line, and the next line consists of another long word made up of words. Then the poem is composed of both many and few words. The lines themselves demonstrate their separateness and, at the same time, the gravitational pull in relation to each other.

Prose only differs to the extent that the lines jump on each other, left to right, instead of falling down from an upwards position. The jumping to the side saves paper (time and space), but it also indicates another thought process -- one with a goal. It's the difference between taking a walk and sitting still. Prose has just as much poetry in it as a poem does. It's just in a rush to get somewhere and bears more guilt, always trying to justify itself.

What Is Poetry: Conversations With the American Avant-Garde

Norman Dubie

[from Norman Dubie's The Mercy Seat: Collected & New Poems 1967-2001, Copper Canyon, 2001]

The Pennacesse Leper Colony for Women, Cape Cod: 1922

             for Laura

The island, you mustn't say, had only rocks and scrub pine;
Was on a blue, bright day like a blemish in this landscape.
And Charlotte who is frail and the youngest of us collects
Sticks and branches to start our fires, cries as they burn
Because they resemble most what she has lost
Or has little of: long fingers, her toes,
And a left arm gone past the elbow, soon clear to her shoulder.
She has the mouth of a sea perch. Five of our sisters wear
Green hoods. You are touched by all of this, but not by us.
To be touched by us, to be kissed! Sometimes
We see couples rowing in the distance in yellow coats.

Sometimes they fish with handlines; we offend
Everyone who is offended most
And by everything and everyone. The five goats love us, though,
And live in our dark houses. When they are
Full with milk they climb the steps and beg that
They be milked. Their teats brush the steps and leave thick
Yellow trails of fresh milk. We are all females here.
Even the ghosts. We must wash, of course, in salt water,
But it smarts or maybe it even hurts us. Often with a rope
Around her waist Anne is lowered entirely into the water.
She splashes around and screams in pain. Her screams
Sometimes carry clear to the beaches on the Cape.

For us I say so often. For us we say. For us! We are
Human and not individual, we hold everything in common.
We are individual, you could pick us out in a crowd.
You did. This island is not our prison. We are not kept
In; not even by our skin.
Once Anne said she would love to be a Negro or a trout.

We live without you, Father, I don't know why I have written
You all this; but be proud for I am living, and yet each day
I am less and less your flesh. Someday, eventually, you
Should only think of me as being a lightning bug on the lawn,
Or the Negro fishing at the pond, or the fat trout he wraps
In leaves that he is showing to someone. I'll be

Most everything for you. And I'll be gone.

The Mercy Seat: Collected and New Poems 1967-2001

14 March 2009

Marilyn Nelson

[from Marilyn Nelson Waniek's The Homeplace, Louisiana State University, 1990]


Diverne wanted to die, that August night
his face hung over hers, a sweating moon.
She wished so hard, she killed part of her heart.

If she had died, her one begotten son,
her life's one light, would never have been born,
Pomp Atwood might have been another man:

born with a single race, another name.
Diverne might not have known the starburst joy
her son would give her. And the man who came

out of a twelve-room home and ran to her
close-shack across three yards that night, to leap
onto her cornshuck pallet. Pomp was their

share of the future. And it wasn't rape.
In spite of her raw terror. And his whip.

The Homeplace

13 March 2009

Gary Snyder

[Gary Snyder from Eliot Weinberger and Octavio Paz's Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei: How a Chinese Poem Is Translated, Moyer Bell, 1987]


Empty mountains:
     no one to be seen.
Yet -- hear --
     human sounds and echoes.
Returning sunlight
     enters the dark woods;
Again shining
     on the green moss, above.

Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei: How a Chinese Poem Is Translated

12 March 2009

Derek Walcott

[from Derek Walcott's The Fortunate Traveler, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1981]

[excerpt from "Map of the New World"]


At the end of this sentence, rain will begin.
At the rain's edge, a sail.

Slowly the sail will lose sight of islands;
into a mist will go the belief of harbors
of an entire race.

The ten-years war is finished.
Helen's hair, a gray cloud.
Troy, a white ashpit
by the drizzling sea.

The drizzle tightens like the strings of a harp.
A man with clouded eyes picks up the rain
and plucks the first line of the Odyssey.


Resound it, surge: the legend of Yseult
in languorous detonations of your surf.
I've smuggled in this bleached prow, rustling shoreward
to white sand guarded by fierce manchineel,
a secret
read by the shadow of a frigate hawk.

This inlet's a furnace.
The leaves flash silver signals to the waves.
Far from the curse of government by race,
I turn these leaves — this book's seditious fault —
to feel her skeins of sea mist cross my face,
and catch, on the wind's mouth, a taste of salt.

The Fortunate Traveler.

11 March 2009

J. Allyn Rosser

[from J. Allyn Rosser's Foiled Again, Ivan R. Dee, 2007]

The Smell of Rat Rubs Off

Once again you've fallen for the lure
of his deference, his quick eyes' brightness
slinking from the pantry of the righteous.
Nothing half so sleek as self-licked fur.
Not that he forgot your boots, or left
A single high-aimed compliment unturned.
He'll double back, affect to be concerned
when he's the secret reason you're bereft,
embracing you with his Houdini hold,
repeating chewed-off bits of what you say
so he seems loyal, you the turncoat jay.
You'd think by now you'd learn to be consoled
to know the soul he sold's not yours but his,
though where yours was a hollow feeling is.

Then too there is this

joy in the day's being done, however
clumsily, and in the ticked-off lists,
the packages nestling together,
no one home waiting for dinner, for
you, no one impatient for your touch
or kind words to salve what nightly
rises like heartburn, the ghost-lump feeling
that one is really as alone as one had feared.
One isn't, not really.    Not really. Joy
to see over the strip mall darkening
right on schedule a neon-proof pink
sunset flaring like the roof of a cat's mouth,
cleanly ribbed, the clouds laddering up
and lit as if by a match struck somewhere
in the throat much deeper down.

Foiled Again: Poems

10 March 2009

Margo Tamez

[from Margo Tamez's Raven Eye, University of Arizona, 2007]

The Breath Moves Corn Girl

A small thing      a gesture
Breaths taken slowly      filling capillaries
More blood circulating      actions to other actions

Becoming nothing
But a vague un-moment   the fear having everything
To do with
What is always at stake

Back to breath --

I ask about expansion
As if I could
As if I had a right to

Her fingers ripple her breath out the flute

Forward again


Steady steady
Quick then slow

What do you remember
What do you cocoon
What memories will erupt
When you lie with your lover in the future
His penis or her fingers touching your vulva's moist lips
After you cringe from the force of
His dry cock or her fingernails
Scraping your delicate flesh

Will you remember this night
The scent of tortillas burning
Your half-brother
Using your infant body
His hands clasped around your small hips
Raking you up and down
Across his naked groin

Feel      the breath move you

To spaces of worlds      you feel      all around

Raven Eye (Sun Tracks)

09 March 2009

Shelby Stephenson

[from Shelby Stephenson's Family Matters: Homage to July, The Slave Girl, Bellday, 2008]

Your Name Is July


Your name is July —
there is no record I know about
beyond the account of your sale.

Did you know your place
and my greatgreatgranddad’s too?

Rummaging around the homeplace,
pronouncing your name Ju-ly,
I hear my father — This land will be yours someday

what graveyard of bones —
mounds and stones,
the “I owned” —
you there, Jart, Venus, Silvy, Clay.
April’s wildflowers run at your feet.
Did winters fill your shoes with snow?

Pap George did live here.
The old washhouse still stands.

I kick the dust out of these fields.


Greatgreatgrandpap George’s anvil
fits right between your shoulderblades.
The money used to buy and sell you
presses into my heart —

I remember —
never eating with “them.”

“They” lived on “our place,”
my father’s boyhood home,
         his father’s homeplace;
                         they slept in the same rooms he grew up in.
                 So when they came to our shanty
my mother would fix
some plates to take to the porch;
we would talk through the screen;
they would eat their peas and fatback
         and my mother took pride in
                 knowing they liked her food.


Chattelrattle downchute to market,
         limbs swinging, nostrils flaring blood.
May streams and woods your vestments be,
your creeks fill with fish —
fields score with mercy.

Tenant shanties wear the landscape.
The graveyard moves the rip of the whip.

Monuments — unheard, still.
Fieldrocks grow moss and grieving.
Memory comes closer to mercy, uncompromising,
         like medicine we take, wait.
Your warm color line never dies.
Fingers wave from galleys,
ships pushing through hell to bring us here.

Family Matters: Homage to July, The Sl Girl

08 March 2009

Clarence Major

[from Clarence Major's Myself Painting, LSU, 2008]

The Wedding

Paint the wedding with flailing figures
and give the landscape high on a hill

in which the festivities are taking place
something we can see, say, the big mouth

of a fish opening,
and let that be the sculpted sun.

Then the dancing jumping bride
and the dancing jumping bridegroom may

fall to the buttered grass, giggling,
and guests in black and white are amused.

The city spreads out lazy below,
seen in its sculpted glamour

but too far away to be heard
in its clamor, so let it be -- and up here

let the wedding dance itself crazy,
let it strut its stuff

till the wind changes. Call it dream time
or time out, call it what you will,

we need it because we live down there.
So, let us dance

till the big mouth of the fish closes.

Myself Painting: Poems

07 March 2009

Forrest Gander

[from Forrest Gander's Deeds of Utmost Kindness, Wesleyan, 1994]

The Silence in Another World

In Kamakura, away from the hill where the famous hollow
Buddha exhales and inhales strings of tourists from the guarded
back door to his gigantic inside, there is a wooded ascent lost
in smoke sent twisting by disconnected women purifying their
raiment and passing their hands through the drift from holy
incense sticks they have just plunged into open air altars of
sand before they intend to climb further, with something shining
in their arms, along the serpentine rock path and its adjacent
brook which, interrupted by tiny waterfalls, is rimmed as the
path is rimmed, by foot-high golden bodhisattvas extending over
and punctuating every visible centimeter of wold and swale,
thousands of bodhisattvas sitting naked in shadow or slashed
with bright air, draped in cloth bibs bearing calligraphic prayers,
or infant clothing, or strung with dried flowers and pairs of
small shoes; a few propping cheap sienna reproductions
of generic
mother and child, crowding each other so seriously
that no ground
is apparent anywhere but for the dim path rising under thick
branches where umbrella pines and cedars segue to larches
at the fifth station, and everywhere else: bodhisattvas each
placed by a woman whose child was stillborn, or aborted, or
wounded fatally in birth, next to another left by another, and
this for many years until every geography unjammed by tree
thrusts has fallen occasion to the sculptured elegies, alike as
newborns and repeated like a mantra, so to seem from a distance,
in winter, a golden death-cap pulled over the knob of a mountain,
a cap woven as in a tale, from the wounds of women, strangers
to each other but mourning the same dispossession, more women
weeping than any dying emperor, or any man has known.

Deeds of Utmost Kindness (Wesleyan Poetry)

06 March 2009

Kevin Prufer

[from Kevin Prufer’s National Anthem, Four Way, 2008]

A Severed Cow’s Head

I wanted, almost, to touch the single eye
                                                              that failed
to roll back to the skull’s dim heaven. Pinpricked
pupil, eyewhite matte and shot
                                               with red — the eye
that hadn’t had enough.


                                              of the world: scrub field
the cut head pressed against, and rain that died
on the mud-splattered face, the melting snow —
I could not help


                       but recall that friend who, at 22, suddenly
knew he was dying. He cried outside
his neighbor’s door, knocked,
                                            until she called the police,
until he fell from the porch
                                         into her garden,
where, hours later, an officer found him.
I cannot say if his eye —


                                        The cow kept watching
as rain undid
                    the swiftly melting, snowy field,
as the sun rolled down the barn’s black roof
into blacker trees.
                            Some of the hairs in its muzzle
were white, others moth-wing gray.
I won’t know how to say goodbye when,
                                                            at last,
I have to.

National Anthem

Amy Clampitt

[from Amy Clampitt’s The Kingfisher, Knopf, 1982]

The Woodlot

Clumped murmuring above a sump of loam —
grass-rich, wood-poor — that first the plow,
then the inventor (his name plowed under
somewhere in the Patent Office) of barbed wire,
taught, if not fine manners, how at least to follow
the surveyor’s rule, the woodlot nodes of willow,
evergreen or silver maple gave the prairie grid
what little personality it had.
Who could
have learned fine manners where the air,
that rude nomad, still domineered,
without a shape it chose to keep,
oblivious of section lines, in winter
whisking its wolfish spittle to a froth
that turned whole townships into
one white wallow? Barbed wire
kept in the cattle but would not abrade
the hide or draw the blood
of gales hurled gnashing like seawater over fences’
laddered apertures, rigging the landscape
with the perspective of a shipwreck. Land-chained,
the blizzard paused to caterwaul
at every windbreak, a rage the worse
because it was in no way personal.
the involuted tantrums of spring and summer —
sackfuls of ire, the frightful udder
of the dropped mammocumulus
become all mouth, a lamprey
swigging up whole farmsteads, suction
dislodging treetrunks like a rotten tooth —
luck and a cellarhole were all
a prairie dweller had to count on.
the inventor of barbed wire was lucky
finally in what he found himself
remembering, who knows? Did he
ever, even once, envision
the spread of what he’d done
across a continent: whale-song’s
taut dulcimer still thrumming as it strung together
orchard, barnyard, bullpen, feedlot,
windbreak: wire to be clambered over,
crawled through or slid under, shepherded —
the heifers staring — to an enclosure
whose ceiling’s silver-maple tops
stir overhead, uneasy, in the interminably
murmuring air? Deep in it, under
appletrees like figures in a ritual, violets
are thick, a blue cellarhole
of pure astonishment.
It is
the earliest memory. Before it,
I/you, whatever that conundrum may yet
prove to be, amounts to nothing.

The Kingfisher (Knopf Poetry Series)

Richard Howard

[from Richard Howard’s “A Consideration of the Writings of Emily Dickinson,” 1973, in Paper Trails, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004]

The one generalization I should care to hazard as to how we should respond to literature is that when we are troubled — bored, provoked, offended — by characteristic features of a writer’s work, it is precisely those features which, if we yield to them, if we treat them as significance rather than as defect, will turn out to be that writer’s solution to his own problems of composition and utterance. The problem of Dickinson’s poetry for us is the solution to the problem of that poetry for her, as we shall see. By an agreeable coincidence, in the years Thomas Johnson was completing his edition of Dickinson’s poems, I met Jean Cocteau, who gave me some advice: “Ce que les autres vous reprochent, cultivez cela: c’est vous-meme (What other people reproach you for, cultivate: it is yourself).” As Emily Dickinson’s contemporaries Lowell and Longfellow have so drastically demonstrated, there is only one thing worse than to be reproachable as a writer — it is to be irreprochable. In literature, if not in the salon, the posture Cocteau advocated is precisely the posture to which I aspire, for it suggests the means whereby all the lion which threaten our introgression into the work of Emily Dickinson, all the problems I have raised, or at least tilted upward, become rather guides and familiars in the enterprise, which is to see her poetry as it is; become answers, solutions, explanations of a poet who said, “My need — was all I had.”

The poems were not written for publication; they were not subjected to that tidying reduction by which we acknowledge a literary profession; she made the poems to replace the habit of experience in the world — as Blackmur said, she made the poems of a withdrawal without a return. The phenomenology which governs her life as a poet is one of inundation. . . . all her life long, she submitted to engulfment, she mastered it in her own terms, and when at last the deluge left her high and dry, she recorded that abandonment, too, in one of her greatest utterances: “The consciousness of subsiding power is too startling to be admitted by men — but best comprehended by the meadow over which the Flood has quivered, when the waters return to their kindred, and the tillage is left alone.”

. . . If you believe, as she did, in the Nothing that renovates the World, then an elusive form of communication is the only adequate one — a direct form is based upon the security of social continuity, while the elusiveness of existence — the astonishment, as Dickinson called it, that the Body contains the Spirit — isolates you wherever you apprehend it. If you are conscious of this and if you are content to be human, you will avoid a direct form. You become what Kierkegaard calls, in a passage which offers the best account I know of Dickinson’s enterprise, if not of her achievement, a genuine subjective existing thinker. . . . Kierkegaard goes on to describe such a thinker as

always in the negative. He continues to be as negative as he is positive as long as he exists, not once and for all. His mode of communication is made to conform (lest through being too extraordinarily communicative he should succeed in transforming a learner’s existence into something different from what a human existence in general has any right to be). He is conscious of the negativity of the infinite in existence, and he constantly keeps the wound of the negative open, which in the bodily realm is sometimes the condition for a cure. Others let the wound heal over and become positive; that is to say, they are deceived. In his form of communication, he expresses the same principle. He is therefore never a teacher but a learner; and since he is always just as negative as he is positive, he is always striving.

Paper Trail: Selected Prose, 1965-2003

Michael S. Harper

[from Michael S. Harper’s Dear John, Dear Coltrane, University of Illinois, 1985; University of Pittsburgh, 1970]


Twitching in the cactus
hospital gown, a loon
on hairpin wings,
she tells me how
her episiotomy
is perfectly sewn
and doesn’t hurt
while she sits in a pile
of blood
which once cleaned
the placenta
my third son should be in.
She tells me how early
he is, and how strong,
like his father,
and long, like a black-
stemmed Easter rose
in a white hand.

Just under five pounds
you lie there, a collapsed
balloon doll, burst in your
fifteenth hour, with the face
of your black father,
his fingers, his toes,
and eight voodoo
adrenalin holes in
your pinwheeled hair-lined
chest; you witness
your parents sign the autopsy
and disposal papers
shrunken to duplicate
in black ink
on white paper
like the country
you were born in,
unreal, asleep,
silent, almost alive.

This is a dedication
to our memory
of three sons —
two dead, one alive —
a reminder of a letter
to DuBois
from a student
at Cornell — on behalf
of his whole history class.
The class is confronted
with a question,
and no one —
not even the professor —
is sure of the answer:
“Will you please tell us
whether or not it is true
that negroes
are not able to cry?”

America needs a killing.
America needs a killing.
Survivors will be human.

Dear John, Dear Coltrane (Poetry from Illinois)

John Ashbery

[from John Ashbery’s Chinese Whispers, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002]

From the Diary of a Mole

Shoehorning in one’s own tribute to crustiness is another life-form for him. Something then went out of us. In the pagan dawn three polar bears stand in the volumetric sky’s grapeade revelation.

“Time to go to the thoughtful house.”

They may not get you here, they may not get you there, they may not get you everywhere, but they will get you somewhere. Yet the proposition never came to a vote, was not voted on. You see the realism in it? No, of course you don’t, for something else is still there, something to replace all of it in one block. Anent the spillway: His crimes are gorgeous but don’t matter just now. Later

we will call him on them. When it subsides. That is, everything.

Just a teardrop of milk, thanks. Don’t believe that rag. It inferred we were adolescents, once, that sex roared over us like a mudslide, leaving us. We were lost. So lost, in fact, that his mother didn’t know me till I came out toward her, and she knew me and was not afraid, was glad in fact, for the rainbow late in the day in its foam of cloud, poised above the basin. Then I had a preshrunk sweater sent to him and asked if there was anything else. “Nothing, a fresh breeze.” Still, leaves are asleep. The bears act as if no one’s there. She curls up in the curlew’s nest, weeping on its golden eggs. It took the savagery of centuries of animal conflict to bring us just short of this, and you, why have you done? Oh, I

don’t much matter I guess. If that’s all I’ll be on my way. To the box in which savage handwriting is hidden, too dense for you to decipher, too lorn for a world to unravel just now, but like they say I’ll be suing you. So really it’s fine until Christmas I can stand it, a runt, I’ll just go on blooming in my box, unaware of things sleeping pagans say about us, glad to crash, collapse the silk hat, garden’s done and I’m all in and breathless for a breather. Come right in. What world is this.

Chinese Whispers: Poems