Vicki Goodfellow Duke of Calgary, Alberta, Canada for Little Psalm,
Praise Concerto, and Garment
Angie DeCola of Greensboro NC for The Plains (for Agnes Martin)
William Dowd of Braintree MA for The Tornado and Zoetrope
Mary Kennedy Eastham of San Jose CA for Points of Love
Scott Gallaway of Bowling Green OH for We have a Way of Thinking about Light and
The Containment and the Return
Jules Gibbs of Madison WI for Ravage and Opossum
Alisa Gordaneer of Victoria BC, Canada for red petals
Megan Gravendyk of Kirkland WA for The Force of Crocuses
Kristen Henderson of Red Hook NY for End Rhyme, New Flower and Unison
Jen Karetnick of Miami Shores FL for Farm Share
Jessica Kruse of Las Vegas NV for Limbo, Love with Another Poet, and The Sound of their Bodies
Dawn Lonsinger of Ithaca NY for Nueva Vida in Nicaragua and The Unveiling Nucleus
Michelle Penn of London, UK for Convalescence
Dove Rengger-Thorpe of Lismore NSW, Australia for The Egg and Blackbean
David Roderick of San Francisco CA for The Poem and Notes on the Riverbank
Brian Spears of Fort Lauderdale FL for Up South
Paul Joseph Venzo of Warrnambool, Victoria, Australia for Splinterwords, White Horses, and Montara
Benjamin Vogt of Lincoln NE for Retirement and A Geologist’s Love
Jennifer Whitaker of Greensboro NC for What to Wear to a Father’s Funeral
Melisa Cahnmann of Athens GA for What to Bring and While Cutting Canteloupe
Jehanne Dubrow of Lincoln NE for Making Piroshke
Meg Pedersen of Silver Spring MD for to the metro and
Sestina: On Seeing CK Williams Read His Own Poetry
Jendi Reiter of Northampton MA for Sedona
Jennifer Elmore of Boston MA for Countering Sylvia
Mihan Han of Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada for Nocturne
Ingrid Moody of Carbondale IL for Breakfast Psalm, Beets,
and Newfound Lake, Bristol, NH
Idra Novey of New York NY for Maddox Road
Dorine Preston of Athens GA for Possible Song
Abbey Winant of Boston MA for Psalm for Spring
$100: Honorable Mention
Clare Adam for Lilacs
Kelli Russell Agodon for Of Light, Skyward, and
Picking God’s Eye Cherries with my Daughter
Lori Kay Allen for Eternally
Shaindel Beers for Because You Are In It and I Give You Words
Adam Benic for Yellow Bat, White Ball
Karen Benke for Still Life With Gratitude
Joanne L.Bentley for Dancing Man
Heather Bradford for Sparrow and Alive
Malia Carlos for My Daughter’s Poem and Dead Squirrel
Nicole Cooley for The House is a Synapse
Keith Ekiss for Alone in Bed, Tucson and In Bed, September
Robin Ekiss for Heartwood
Melanie Faith for Namesake
Gwenda Hague for Isla by Moonlight
Wallis Hendon for A Photograph of My Mother
Rachel Hillmer for Mundane Epiphany, When the embers fade, and Color me Ecstasy
Catherine Hope for Laney
Allison Joseph for Hospice Tableau: Husband and Wife
Dawn Leas for Open-ended Question, Departure, and Late Last Winter
Katherine Manning for Observations from a Bench at Mission Beach
Lisa Megraw for Night Rush
Julia Meurice for Nature’s Relativity
Sara Michas-Martin for The Lake Swim and Dear Husband
Fawn Mokulis for chicken liittle and the break-up
Robin Mullery for A Chelmer’s Dream
Dave Pigeon for Faces
Stephen Pridham for The Carpeted Wilderness
Bede Roselli for when i get home from work
Laura Schleifman for Alaska in Italia
Bruce Snider for Superman Speaks at the Oscars: Christopher Reeve 1952-2004
Lynn Parrish Sutton for Spring Foal and Time Horses
Our thanks to everyone who entered and
congratulations to our winners!
Vicki Goodfellow Duke
On days when there is nothing
But a dark hollow, on bruised flesh,
do not curse the apple tree,
roots tangled in damp earth,
by a swift wind’s knife,
nor question the tenor
of red-cheeked fruit, firm
and sparse between codlings.
Stoop and hold
the blemished one
in your palm.
a pip has fallen,
flowered into orchard,
rooted in earth or stars,
and it will follow you
from home to home, in summer
gowned in purity blossoms.
Let the brown skim of ego slip
and gather the spoiled, with the firm,
scat pulp to pomace,
shroud and press.
Thank the sun
for gloss and maturity,
cider, sour and sweet,
marvel at your own proximity
to the ground, core intact,
in every season of rain.
The mute children stare
at the maestro’s baton,
lips loose on dumb breath,
limbs deaf to the beat.
They sit in rigor,
face the man in black
with dancing hands,
tilt their heads
at the whisk of his elbow,
the slow unfurling
of his arm.
They alone can see
ribbons and streams of satin
in cornflower blue,
looping wide arcs,
the dim and daub
of fair-haired moons
flung wide to rafters, lifting
to raise their tiny bodies
in perfect elevation
and hold them,
in open air.
There is more
than one way to sing,
more than one way
to see in the dark.
Suppose time is a circle, bending back on itself …
in damask silk,
to the waist’s curve,
firm in the long groove
of your back.
See how the chiffon falls
over the contour of hips,
grazing the wrist.
Note the well-placed pearl,
each hand-culled bead.
Turn once, and look
through this gossamer veil
back to the bend
in the circle.
See the circumference
of your life,
the way the hours curl
in a ring from then to now
and begin over,
each wound as hook and eye,
binding the fabric of days.
How in going round
you would not alter
one scar, embroidered
the glossed brilliance
Unfortunate, how often we forget
about our minds, how capable they are
of expanding beyond the crusted edges
of the world, the unknown limits of space and time.
In the mind resides a perfect circle.
It is one our hands will never duplicate.
In fact, the Greeks sought out perfection,
found it, tried recreating it, failed, again
tried, continued failing and trying.
In truth, we don’t like circles after all.
Lines, grids are less impossible and more,
offer nearer perfection. Was it true, Agnes,
your mother was much like your grandfather?
Did they lead you by perfect example?
Here, now, the perfect square shouts out
its great authority, the rectangle contradicts it,
and the circle, the circle has nothing at all to say.
You knew, Agnes, that human beings are herd animals.
We make heartbreaking attempts to live
deep within the herd, buried there. Sometimes
we make sheep sounds. Sometimes,
coming down from great heights – mountaintops,
sky-scraping peaks – we look out and discover
the plains. A most agreeable flatness.
A stillness cut up with lines, grids,
shapes that remind us we are not perfect.
Sometimes, coming down from the mountain,
we look out across the plains and feel as if
we are flying over them, flying
over a dream of perfect grids and rows,
a perfect breeze suspends us there,
above the lines and squares. No more authority.
No more contradiction. We climb mountains
to get out of this world and into another.
And then we climb back down.
Having swallowed itself whole
in an asthmatic gulp over the river,
the tornado left a grounded halo
of wet, wind-fried leaves under
all the trees in La Plata. Rising from
the earth, the La Platians found
their houses shorn and unwalled.
One could imagine the beginning,
the sound of bells starting to lose
focus, a dollhouse trembling
on its tabletop, its tiny ottomans
and plastic sofas rattling and ejected
onto a bedroom floor –
then a sudden sparkling darkness
and the scrape of air gnawing
on nails and shingles, looting bits
of structure, the weather suddenly
everywhere like red ants.
The citizens gathered up and discarded
the spear-splinters of wreckage,
the mingled shards of windows
and picture frames and crock-pot tops.
They tamed the lashing live wires
and raked up the greasy leaves –
slowly sifting the damage,
reclaiming the landscape.
Only later did the La Platians look up
and notice clumps of insulation snared
in the trees, blooming there
like muscular flowers,
the lean boughs made incarnadine
by the stolen flesh of the houses.
Entire harems of horses are found collapsed
around oak trees, grass still clumped
in their mouths, whiskers burning
away like sparklers, purple carvings
on their thighs where lightning stretched
from the wet topsoil to grope them.
The wounded are stunned by madness,
their heads dangle lopsidedly, corneas
white and swishing, they stamp defiantly,
trying to recover the sequence of what they are,
how they moved toward the glint
of a mineral lick, how they stopped snorting
and sprinting when they meant to sleep.
We invented stop-motion photography
to prove that a horse, at some stage in its gait,
raises all its four hooves off the ground –
something lucid in any horse that appears
untouched after a thunderstorm,
having eluded the ground currents
of lightning in its moments of full galloping
extension, and now leisurely decelerates
to a stolid trot among the hawthorn
and lava rocks, its hooves brought back to earth
by the soft suction of new mud.
Mary Kennedy Eastham
The storm was unexpected
New Yorkers swept inside by snow.
In 4B a woman bathes her lover
careful not to wet his broken hand.
The Egyptian newlyweds
living in the building’s only studio
give their dreamchildren names
underneath a tent of bedsheets.
Twin sisters, designers, in Versace mules
on their penthouse terrace
with models from Milan.
Alone in her garden apartment
a Venezuelan widow
listens to vinyl records
she once danced to
with her husband.
And outside, on the street,
as the snow unfurls around them
like a ream of white velvet
a girl in a scarf
the color of blood red calla lilies
to a proposal of marriage
while riding on the turned up handlebars
of her lover’s rusty Schwinn.
Lights begin to pock the darker darkness
Across the water – holes in the black paint
Of a mirror. The light says look beyond us,
But without looking, I know
There is always darkness beyond light
Just as there is always land behind water.
The secret spectrum of light is reduced to white
On the tips of waves. The truth of water
Is that it’s harder to maintain than change:
The striped obsidian of moon water,
The rainbowed glint of noon water, the white
Flash of a wave. Water is mirror and night.
When light and water mend, we always think
The water remains unchanged, just there. We think
The light enters the water, but as the world
Edges around, it is, in fact, the water entering
The light. And it is the light entering the water.
Catching a softball with your father
On the shore of your first ocean trip,
There was a moment after the arm cocked
Back with the catch that you paused
And looked, containing waves of potential
For error and accuracy, but you knew
The necessity of letting go, without thought,
Like breathing while drinking your milk.
Even in the boundary of glass, the milk
Rippled to the edge, and back.
The glass itself urged back to sand.
And the stones of sand rushed the shore,
And returned, paused only enough
To form beaches, and castles.
They build cottony tents in trees, multiplied, inched
through our lives, taking over streets and houses, every surface
moving with the caterpillar march. Pale bristles
circumscribed wormy bodies like
so many misshapen halos.
Around tree trunks, men painted poison
rings. Government planes sprayed a fine
mist; I tasted something acrid
in the dirt. Still they popped under tires,
asphalt stained, gut-green, yellow, red, until
the sun cooked out the color.
Sometimes, I’d notice one pause, lift
his small, painted face to the sky, and I thought I understood.
August nights, streetlights flickered violet
outside my window. Katydids quieted
in breathless pause. I lie in bed listening to their soft
shredding, miniscule mouths chewing jagged tracks
through the canopy. I remember an insatiable hunger
welling up, so much like the expectation
of joy, but not joy – something unnamed, something
my teeth clenched fist to contain, and I wanted
to eat my hand, eat my life – swallow it whole.
Under the porch, an opossum multiplies, babies
the size of honeybees, blind, cling to her teats.
Each night the space she occupies comes alive;
she stirs, scratches in dirt, while I,
lugubrious, consider infants sleeping in empty rooms
upstairs, star mouths sucking air, soft fists
clenching. She’s got it all over me – a penchant
for reproduction and falling down dead, drooling
through her toothy grin. I get online, try to find
ways to rid my house of them; I realize
the task is more than I can bear. I learn her shoulder bones
are square, and the oldest part of the sun is the black eye.
remember the groceries: children have complained.
even the crows outside are hungry for something.
buy coffee. it will be a long night
of making lists. you’ll need lots of paper.
fuel yourself with the scent of hyacinths, the
sight of daffodils about to bloom.
bring home the memory
of woodsmoke at camp, the feeling
of rain after a hot day.
arrange your space according to principles
of ancient spice and breezes, good energy
in the shape of bells.
honour the directions. north has been feeling neglected
and south wants to know when you plan to move on.
discover sounds in words you never use:
ululate, roundel, lubricious. speak them as they fall
like red petals. let your children hold out their hands
list everything you ever wanted
all the things you still don’t know.
It is the way she bends low to gather their petals,
A wilted white sock,
A soft red scarf,
A waxy yellow coat.
It is the way they reach high into the limbs of her arms
And the way they wrap around her ankles and shins,
Anchoring her to the ground like roots.
You can see it here in the pictures
Covering her refrigerator, like ivy
Until no white shows through.
This wasn’t the garden she imagined –
this tangled vine and wildflower – she saw box-hedges
She planned brick pathways between trimmed rows of lavender.
What a sweet surprise it has been
To see the poppy among the primroses,
The force of crocuses shooting up through the mossy garden path.
I have prayed to rhyme happily
ever after, and I think it’s coming true –
every word that comes together
spins off the great weight of sound
in terms of belonging, perfection –
whether hated or understood,
it is no longer necessary to prove
the uncanny, the secret
agreement inside the
offbeat and the beat,
the unbelievable coordination
of brooding vowels and foolish
consonants it took to get here,
so many years later.
This is the hidden syllable, stripped
all the way down
to the underworld meadow
in which I found
a grave stone set beside a flower –
and not the other way around.
Every day you are born
in the open hand
of the calla lily,
stunned to silence by the deep thread
of the orange
ranuncula, the sex of the iris
taken at night, the quirk of the bird
of paradise, its tender spikes
that cut like the globe
thistle’s whole heart.
If I could build a flower
in your name, Anya,
I would take the flame
of the marigold and press it into
the heart of an old rose
to show how you are a child
in wisdom’s clothes. I would graft the stem, though,
of seed and glass, the leaves of breeze
and twilight, its roots,
those of the weeping
Every day the petals would change
color, first sunrise
then rust, silver from the cusp of a crescent
moon, the bronze of ancient atmospheres,
the clear white of each perfect star,
the Archer’s garden in bloom. Your scent
would be a collision
of eucalyptus and honey,
liquorice and soil soaked
by sugar cane and sun.
And then, when I am done, the windflower
you have become
would lean into the world
as bold as you are
shy, and share its singular,
What if there was an uncanny moment
when all the birds were grounded
from Cape Town to Juneau, and everywhere between –
all feathers frozen in a universal stutter, so quick
as to make a snail of light, and even Stephen
Hawking would miss it? And what if there was
that one note no musician has ever found, not Mozart
in his fever, nor any Diva at the height
of song, not in all their hours of practice,
not in their weeping? In another poem,
some drunk will happen upon a ukulele,
pluck the note, quite by accident,
and pass out, never knowing he was
someone all along. But here, it is God’s
best kept secret, unsealed only at our dying,
when every bird from crow to lark, in homage
to our dive into the earth, stops their flying,
and waits for our wings
to join them.
“I remember breaking beans,”
says Theresa, come to collect
her portion of organically raised
agriculture – Chinese kale this week,
and Japanese shiitake mushrooms.
Ruth recalls peeling apples
as she tucks away her just-laid eggs;
Anne-Britte cracked nuts
in her native Sweden; Colleen
hulled strawberries and picked mint.
For myself it was corn, silky
strands from Jersey ears falling
like hair from the collie on the driveway,
husks (and later, cobs) leftover
for the raccoons to discover in
the too-easily dumped garbage bins.
And I ask them, aren’t all
Saturday afternoons supposed to be
like this: friends and neighbors
retrieving mamey sapote and Bee Heaven
honey, the sun one chime away
from down, perched on the coral steps
of Mango House shelling last week’s
delivery of English peas with my daughter,
who unzips the pods and combs
the seeds as if they were pearls
pinging into the metal bowl
we share between us, the keepers
of curiosity at our fingertips,
casings of tradition at our feet.
The year during my childhood when we had a blizzard
in May: it hadn’t snowed
for almost two months, then suddenly a storm
the same day as my grandfather’s funeral.
My cousin and I, too young to know
we were expected to mourn death,
chose instead to mourn the snow day
we missed out on,
already taken from school for the wake.
All during the church service
we glanced toward the windows, stained
glass taunting us with its colored frost.
I imagined what we were missing,
strained to hear the happy shrieks which signaled
the start of a snowball fight, the laughter
sneaking in during the silences between
the liturgy and music.
There was no burial that day,
the frozen ground too stubborn to give of itself,
already risen from the earth that spring.
So we had the service, and we had the meal that followed,
and then my cousin and I, finally set free,
spent the rest of the afternoon with our friends,
building forts and burying each other
in the snow banks, our tiny bodies
kept warm within our tombs,
voices growing muffled as the snow piled on.
A test of wills to see how long
each of us could withstand
the removal, the deafening silence,
the feeling of floating somewhere in between,
not below the ground, but not quite above it either.
My mother laughs as she tells me about that first trip
to the Smokies. The bears outside the cabin window,
the mice that raced all night on open rafters
above their heads. She didn’t sleep
the entire weekend, fearing the mice would fall
down on the bed. But the sunrise that first morning,
you should have seen it! How the color
rose through the mist, dividing the mountains
and bringing them together at the same time.
She remembers this when I (sixteen and stars in my eyes)
ask about romance. That he stay awake with her,
whispering into her hair. The sound of their bodies
entwined with the melody of the forest,
enveloping the darkness in a symphony,
worshiping all things nocturnal.
We made love like an airplane, a porch swing,
a topographical map, an earthworm. Like a really good book
when we spoke we wanted every word to have the meaning
of an entire page. So we read each other slowly,
took too long, became more critical of the subtext than we should have.
Love became a school of fish, a cat’s meow, and suddenly,
a tomb. Like thieves or gluttons, like wives of ancient pharaohs,
we buried each other alive with the dead, tried to smuggle into our next world
things which should have stayed behind: your name became
more than the letters it contained, more than a former lover.
Became my first trip to Italy, a letter from a close friend, a cold
wet day in the Mojave Desert. Became the perfect poem we read
yesterday: even when we saw the end coming, we didn’t want it to happen.
Bienvenidos – the sun summons
these people, covers them with warmth,
and they answer by rising again
despite circumstances that break
their backs against the horizon.
If they move, the dry land will chase them.
but they move, and the dirt on their faces
never smudges the glow of the sun.
By the time we arrive,
the only vehicle in view,
they are outside – living.
Clouds of dust follow us in,
running niños follow us in,
gringos están trabajando.
Beauty is so basic in these faces,
parting seas of smiles with our every wave,
Hola, Adió, Quieres una foto? – their eyes swimming.
Sunlight breaks through the beams not completely covered
by black tarps, and highlights the everyday objects of a new life.
A bowl of clumped rice rests on a bare ledge.
Small metal bars touch each other, rust blooming.
Inches of string keep a rooster remaining in the light like an angel.
A small mirror hangs itself with all the images
of its neighbors, or captures the sun,
depending which angle you look at it.
Under someone’s techo are the tools to build.
Under someone’s skin are the tools to build.
Everything is make-shift, but we shift dirt in and out of holes,
the small grains of Nicaragua underpinning. Yes, our hearts together beat
open the earth, and a mutual lava pours like light through our veins.
Now is not the moment of your marriage –
Already in the deepest caverns of consciousness
you’ve poured your glitches & kindling into the vault
of each other’s eyes: tender goblets, microphones of the mind.
You have not fallen, as is so often said of love,
but chosen, from every endless possibility, this –
You two, locked like an island by arithmetic and flux,
and in you – the forest floor spreading,
fruit the size of small fists, sweet glissando.
Plumes of butterflies click their diaphanous wings
like scissors in your chamber where our doll eyes flick open
as mouths, each combination a garret of curtains, the tablature pursed.
We can hear the wind whistling, all the windows of
your souls suddenly thrown open, how you fall for the clamorous.
When time & space cross, pearls of stars form in the grit,
and when you & you cross, a whole world yet unseen
opens like an orange poppy, inside of which is
a little infinity of orange poppies.
Your love is as obvious as rocks, as subtle as sound,
as mystifying as marshmallows in fire.
The mist lifts – with one veil, a hundred veils are lifted:
In pours the melodious light –
the sun, like cake – let’s eat it.
The moons in your mouth blink full, unlace
each other’s solitude, and the whole ocean curtseys –
starfish, jellyfish, seahorses, anemone billow this:
It is not that you complete one another,
but that you turn up the volume on
each other’s hearts.
Five in the afternoon, almost to the minute, as though
some factory whistle
has dismissed them from the day’s drudgery
their fins slice the surface.
In twos and threes, they spiral
toward the sky.
Yet again, the woman plods
to the balcony in the sweat-stained
nightgown she has worn for the last month, leans
into the railing, waits for the show
wondering what prompts them to do it.
Are they trying to breathe? That’s what people say
although it seems counter-
intuitive, fish taking flight, wanting
the outside world’s dry blessing.
Perhaps they’re escaping a hunter
some sharp, violent eye. Only their arcs
trace not desperation but daring
joy. From beside skiffs
from mangrove shadows, mullet
reach toward the last of the light
tails fluttering like wings
bodies slapping the water, applause
for their defiant leaps against death.
When dawn breaks
It is with the gentle sound
Of an egg
Against a sky-blue bowl.
The yolk slides over
The rim of the world.
The birds start to
Sing in the trees.
Then they take flight,
Their wings stirring
The early-morning air.
Inside I am
Small and black and
Glossy, and contain
Whole other worlds,
If only you
Could split me open.
You don’t notice me,
And walk on by,
Just nudging the pod
Of my possibility
With your foot.
is a row of paper lanterns
strung over the garden,
lily tongues, the dull weeds
ranging against order.
It is a glimpse of fingers
through the small panes
of the tool shed: rake,
child’s face, blue moth
caught in a broken web.
Offering a type of light
that sways in the breeze,
it hints at dim shapes
huddled in the grass,
the ones with slender ears
that feed on windfall apples
scattered over the earth.
Light opens the mind of the forest.
What took me so long to find it?
Jingle-flies on the compost pile,
a punched-in face of a pumpkin.
At a casting hole,
where the ground is worn
by rain, I smell local dawn,
a yeasty smell, vinegar the son
of wine. Near my feet a rifle
shell placed on a stump, newborn
spiders breaking from
a cracked pod. Sun stirs out
from the river. In its bed
I see pulverized rock, the gray-
and-white shape of a pickerel.
The marks along its sides
are like spots on an old man’s lung.
I watch this fish, its stillness,
these toads emerging from camouflage
because I need another language
to live in, where leftover light
finds my blood, and tree bark
is the color of dark bread rising.
Amy stands on the edge of the sand,
tastes breezes through lips once chapped
by Oklahoma dust, looks away from the neon,
the faux-frontal nudity of Lauderdale.
She is home here, this place of mahi
and yellowfin and shark that flash
through reef and surf, that call her
to rejoin them as though she had once
sprung whole from the sea. Her land,
her peninsula, once separated from
civilization by malarial swamp
that still threatens to reconquer.
She calls my home “up-south.”
New Orleans, clichéd home of swooners,
of goateed gamblers debarking
from riverboats, of Storyville quadroons
named by Shakespeare. Not my city.
Mine is the patois of immigrants, faded
by assimilation, but still attendant
in chere and Hey la-bas and mais yeah,
in Ti-Jean and Nookie and Mawmaw June,
in roux dark and sweet and so brown;
in daily August rain not cooling,
falling just enough to steam the streets
and send me running for a nearby bar,
windows painted: Cold Beer, Colder A/C.
She is pollo and Cameron, jerk and salsa
and reggae and old Jewish women
mopping their foreheads. I am bourré
and etouffee, low down papas with
the blues and a city ever on the brink
of washing into the Gulf of Mexico.
I am where no one is a stranger,
just misplaced family returned home.
She is where no one is a stranger;
everyone is from somewhere else.
Paul Joseph Venzo
The words will out
rejected from the flesh
and smudge the skin with blood
drip to the page with iron scent
where even flesh is in the word
that wracks your organs blithely
within your throat
is poetry unspoken
it signs itself
tattooed upon your lips
and hisses out
upon your breath and
cracks the heart right open.
Let all the white horses, the dappled and grey
That graze in the high country
The hours of loving, the scent of the hay
In our hair
Let all the young fillies, the chestnut and black
That neigh in the half-light
Gallop us back
To childhood knowing, the promise of snow
In the air
Let all the fine stallions, the piebald, the brown
Their manes tossed in sunlight
Gallop us down
Down through the blue-gums, down through the years
As sharp as the bit in the teeth of the mare
Let all the white horses, the dappled and grey
That graze in the high country
The hours of loving
The hours of light
The scent of the hay
The fears of the night
With Pegasus dreaming us
Into the flight
Of white horses dancing
The tiny grapes left on the vine
Are frosted black-blue-grey
And sweeten deeply on this autumn day
Muscatels that make late-harvest wine
From the glass rise memories
Scent of a smoke-filled room
Where two men couch in evening gloom
And pick at cherries
A shoreline. A couple. Older, probably
late sixties. Her hat, larger than the crane’s
shadow that’s caught in its blurred flight,
looks like a cargo ship against the cloud line.
Their heads are almost perfectly adrift
from their bodies, severed by the calm horizon.
His leg, the left, is naked to the knee,
his right is soaking wet up past his waist.
In the foreground: sand that’s flat and hard,
compressed by tides that close upon themselves.
Threads of seaweed line a crab who’s white
and eagle spread against the earth like stone.
The waves roll in smooth like new bed sheets.
No matter the hour it seems clouds will burn
away before their lunch. It might be noon.
It could just as well be evening and the man
and woman set out to beat the rain, enjoy
the beach they’d come to settle toward, They’ve put
their dark shades on. They’re wearing hats. She’s in
a dress that shows her muscular calves.
But it’s cold. It’s fall. There’s no one else nearby,
no ships across the water, and somewhere in front,
forty feet, a stranger stitches them against
horizons – ocean, sky and land – the world
their bodies cross, but cannot navigate.
There’s no heat in her hands. No solace in her embrace.
She presses herself into another so hard, she hopes
the pressure fuses a center brighter than the sun.
She says she wants to be mined like coal.
The cold metal scraping at her insides, methodical, each
valley seismographed and core sampled, researched
and then unearthed. She wants to be on display.
She wants her inside breath to know the April rain.
Her heart to pump the clouds and rivers like her blood,
to cleanse the storms and nightfall and mud
until she can see through them toward the beginning.
But the beginning, she’s seen in books, was dust
and ash, sparkle radiation, plasma pools and sharp rock.
Fragments of ice. Fog and daggers of creation.
She says her bones are stalagmites
sharpened beneath a dense ocean that drips onto her.
Irony, she says, is the morphous water sharpening the minerals,
evaporating the cold smooth and leaving the element.
She says she can offer nothing more than distilled parts
constantly melting beneath the mantle of her skin.
Wear a chain around your neck of fingernail moons
to rend and scatter about the grave.
Regrets like stitches along your hem.
A little tin bird slipped in your pocket.
Wear as a sash the river where he washed
your clothes, the silt of its dark bed. In your hair,
the frozen bat he stepped on one winter night.
The pop of bacon grease smudged
around your eyes. The rough firewood
that you helped chop, the spark and smoke.
Wear a hat stuffed with his whispered prayers
in the dark, and two handfuls of sand to throw on top.
Wear as a brooch the O of your keening mother’s mouth.
Wear anger as a handkerchief at your waist –
tucked in deep, so that only the smallest corner shows.
sack lunch, silence,
flashlight, fruit salad,
a change of underwear.
prayer shawl, and
Lip balm, canned
hearts and beer.
Come with highlighted
passages, a blue
ink pen, with rubber gloves
or a talisman.
In any sandal,
at any time:
compass, money, a map.
Check the weather.
You may need matches,
God, a hat.
I prepare myself
as if for a trip to Europe.
I prepare to ask you
what I haven’t dared to ask
my bad, irreparable self:
to show your dark spots
and bruises, the sweet
inside. I have prepared
to keep shoulders from lifting.
I have trained hips to open
like halves of melon, learned
to notice when the jaw
is lonely, sore. I want shame
scooped out, and desire
a harvest on the kitchen counter.
I want you to enter me
this way: knife, spoon, ripe melon
There is an instinct in her touch I try
to imitate – I let one hand follow
the other into the flesh of the dough,
like a baby kneading in its mother’s side
before it curves into a dream of milk.
She rolls the dough more flexible than cloth,
as if it’s not our dinner but something soft
to hug against the skin, a piece of silk
that’s slept beneath. Then she holds a water glass,
presses its mouth into the countertop,
pale flourings of O’s. She always stops
to cradle each within her palm, a last
moment (open, unfilled) before she spoons
the meat inside and seals the crescent moon.
i am always late, five minutes sometimes,
usually about twenty, but no matter how
uncomfortably i straddle time you are there!
often i dash into a station tripslipping on heels or
where someone spilled a soda,
only to be chastised for my tardiness by your chant of
“doors closing,” but you always come back, come back.
i know i can depend on you,
but not like the way a girl depends on her deadbeat dad
never to come back. more like how she depends on chocolate,
that savory stoptime moment where things go smoothly
paralleling the milky brown thickness.
your trains sidle up to the station so warmly.
at first i thought you were rather brash
with your winking lights and lack of words,
just an unspoken invitation of spreading open your doors.
now you are a mug of hot coffee lifted to my
lips for me, in the midst of a dirty city, motion that carries me “home.”
i can globetrot and your persistent permanence amazes me,
how I can wander paris or new york and you change
your name a little, but your maps still hang on your walls
for me to read. there is comfort in these diagrams of place,
in the way you race crazily, throbbingly, through urban tunnels
underneath concrete jungles with skins of skyscrapers,
and you provide the pulse.
Downtown: sundrops fizzle like mercury on the metal roofs of taxis, coming and go-
ing from the metro. I march, stilettos and all, but no words,
jumping in the spaces where the heat disappears. Devils, not
angels, inhabit this city of neutrals where art
has become a trial, a parade, a walk through rain
to a marble-wood box steeped in age.
The theatre is quiet yet, the few actors in the audience exercises in age.
I settle into the flow of my body against wood as my eyes go
to a dame at my side. Her Grace Kelly curls cling, damp from the rain,
and she wears too much lipstick, but just the right amount to give flair to her words.
When she turns the other way I lean in close, like to a piece of art,
and sniff her perfume. It drifts through my nostrils, not
unlike cocaine to my sinuses. Then CK, clutching his own drug of poetry, not
perfume for him but a vial in manuscript, ambushes the stage
with his clutter, his blessing, his grace. He offers the promise of art
to us and I hear the lady’s breath go
in her chest, smothered by pearls, she holds it away from the words
which grace us, like she is afraid of the rain
of emotion barreling toward us. Rain,
though, cleanses and he afterward is not
ominous but a rapture. She slips her feet out of those navy pumps as his words
diffuse into her perfume. Even her journal is crinkled, with age
clutching it like caked makeup, but the years stop mattering as the poet lets go
his verbs and slips into a new kind of art
where rhythm reigns and cadence is its crown, each syllable art
in itself. It seems the staccato is mesmerizing the rain:
it has stopped. Adjacent but apart my lady and I go
into self-contained writhing glories, discrete knots
of nerves tarnished from the ink on my fingers, the wrinkles of age
on hers. Furious in our affectation we both rightleft scribble down words.
I become aware of her solidness when her foot trembles against mine and I know his words
are tangible too, he feels them on his tongue and like darts
of eloquence they pierce us. I wonder how she takes it, at her age,
the excitement, the tightness, the pummeling of this literate rain,
yet she clings to grace like a young lover to forget-me-nots.
There is a certain kind of rhythm in letting go.
The crescendo fades, goes out like a candle. I glance at the woman at my side for whom age
has stopped and see the words she scrawled in her journal are the same ones I have. Not
knowing this, she slips her shoes back on and stands. Leaving is an art, and outside, the Capitol is on fire with the rain.
That indifference still surprises –
that the sheer scrub-haunted cliffs
pile slab on ferrous slab, dinosauric
in ancient sun, hot before there was August.
Before there was.
That cactus grips
the yellowed hillsides, profuse as locusts.
That anything mindless could still need teeth.
That the cold water stings like advice.
You dip your feet again in the same stream.
The pain is still there for the asking,
same as rocks jeweling the streambed.
Nothing visible moves
down the mountain, even the cooling sun now
diffuses gray light through a whale-bellied cloud.
You descend the root-crossed path
slowly, as slowly as rocks
would slide, if shaken loose.
That the cactus, even dead, raises
its arms to the sky:
neither grotesque nor wise.
Where you have no reason to be,
you lay your blanket over stones.
The pine does not descend to the desert,
nor the lizard seek the snow.
You make your camp on the mountain.
That the stars are old grandmothers
who have forgotten their names.
Beneath the mountain’s dark apron
the flat town glitters and blinks,
a hive of intentions.
And you, suspended
clean as wind, between craving and unminding,
drunk on the thin air of angels,
remember which world is yours
and rise, taking not a morsel
of memento rock, lest you hope to change the mountain
by burdening yourself with one more stone.
Into The Colossus, I pass her
pasty fountain, her rose droppings.
I’d like to give back
the sour cadavers, page 5,
and the swill of science boys
in white smocks.
I won’t let my heart
marinate in formaldehyde.
Today, I reject
the dissection and sad jar.
I drive my tumor to the beach,
where I wallow
in hurricane season
and fierce water.
Where I breathe with force,
unbroken on the sand.
The night has cast its nets o’er city streets
And caught for me no dreams nor even sleep,
But stars that teem like fish in sable seas
And boughs – the weaving corals of the deep.
For me a zephyr croons a lullaby
And parts the branches of the poplar tree,
Unveiling clouds that sweep like windblown tides,
Through moonlight etching verse and poetry.
A sparrow song! The siren notes descend
Through trembling leaves; a forlorn melody
Lulls me from sleep to ponder without end:
Is it a nocturne or an elegy?
Drawn by birdsong I looked outward tonight
And saw an ocean churning in the sky.
This morning, as I chewed my toast,
I wondered if the season had tipped
gently into fall, if the house
had sunk a breath’s width into the loam
beneath the street – something had turned.
And then on my toast I noticed the haze
of white along the crust, the inarticulate
beginnings of a fuzz, still mostly idea,
that I knew would blister if left alone –
an affront to my glossy kitchen.
The strawberries, too – gray
and juicing in their bowl – carried
the whispered intimation of death.
And yet the morning gleamed
as I searched the encyclopedia
for words to call those turnings by,
and found their names and spoke them,
delicate and ornate and blooming
on the tongue, lavish as the mold itself:
Aspergillus, Penicillium, Alternaria alternata.
Last night, a thick steam lifted
from the stove
and descended on the kitchen.
On my cutting board, the beets
lolled in their chapped brown skins.
I dropped them whole into the pot
to boil, cracked as the soil
they came from,
still wearing a film of dust,
having come from the darkness
of decaying earth
to arrive in my kitchen,
where I stood blinking
and bewildered on the cold tile floor
having forgotten the part of the story
when spring returns.
I fished them out with a slotted spoon
and began to peel their matted skins away,
and found the deepest red beneath –
the tight hearts, pulsing with brightness.
Silent and invisible, we sprawl on the lawn
as the fireworks burst upon the dark like split fruit –
kiwi, tomato, pomegranate, fig –
heavenly projections of the small and earthly.
Their seedscapes spill out amongst the stars
and flicker there before unraveling
as if to say all of us here, destined to rot and stink,
are worth a constellation, however brief.
Shucking corn on the veranda, my sister said
she didn’t care that her father had come by, or
that I’d finally met him, though later, after the dark
started to rake in, I found her outside again,
staring at the sweep of fallow fields and shadows
around our mother’s rented house, the curious row
of weathered tobacco shacks along one edge, saddled
with their years of emptiness and disuse, and she said
this had all been plantation land, that her father’s family
had worked here. He’d told her so, once, coming down
this road, and she had a feeling if she stayed here
long enough, something of meaning, of consolation,
might make itself clear. And because we’re not close,
I asked if I could sit with her, and we listened
to the pickups shudder past, invisible after nightfall,
and between them, the diligent hoo of an owl, listening
for the rustle, perhaps, of what it trusted
must lie near, though obscured and impossible
to predict. Gradually a wind bore the clumps
of corn silk we’d neglected into the unseen, its thickening
woods that press upon the heart and field.
Song of the wine between bottle and glass,
song of the gate, unlatched.
Song of the winding stair. Song of the mist
over any mountain pass, song of the opening bars.
The first skipped beat. Song of the spider’s
turn around the copper clock tower, greening.
Song of the dough’s warm lofts
where the lathe hums to the loom.
Song of swallows flung from a pine,
song of the pine needle’s balm.
Song of the sea urchin’s urgent repose.
Song on one wing, flexed.
Song of the bow-wave, the lookout’s cry.
Song of the purpling fig.
Song of the welder’s arc,
arcing. Song of the rising mask.
Song of the open mouth between breaths,
song of your mouth on my breast.
Song of the bouquet slung over the bull’s horns.
Song of the bee’s plumping thighs.
Song of the margin, the widening iris,
song of the wax toward words.
Sometimes I think I see
gospel everywhere: hands splitting open
the yellow-white sky, parting banks
of backlit clouds. Here in February’s
perpetual suspension of immiscibles:
baking soda, chlorophyll,
bacon fat, coffee grinds, ashes
of unknown origin, light briefly floods
Earth’s frayed edges, and Tuesday is made
less acidic. Thoughtless clouds spill out
grace like maple syrup, the warm thick
light poured into the fissured cold
cracks in the cement, drizzled
onto rooftops and trees –
How can I explain love
so bright and specific that I am
exposed, and still choose to open
as a flower toward the first hint of sun?
God, let me see you clearly. Reveal to me
something genuine, some clean thirst,
or the gift of exhaustion, sharp and pure
as rubbing alcohol, the short work
of this comprehensible world.