Marla Alupoaicei of Frisco, Texas for The Opening, Terre Haute, and How the Light Gets in
Paula Bohince of Greensburg, Pennsylvania for Good Morning, Heirloom, and After Chemotherapy
Allen Braden of Lakewood, Washington for Beyond There Be Dragons, Alone in the Wild Dark, and Inspiration
Gillian Wegener of Modesto, California for Postcard from Jane; Bugle Air; and The Soul, Feeling Expansive, Masquerades as a Butterfly
Pilar Gómez-Ibáñez of Ithaca, New York for Fox, Lake Erie Shoreline; For the Man who Marches down Spaight Street, Singing Hymns; and The Red Cedar
Dove Rengger-Thorpe of Lismore, New South Wales, Australia for The hatching, Blood plum, and A brief blaze
K. Ballantine of Dayton, Tennessee for Midsummer’s Eve
Danielle Cadena Deulen of Fairfax, Virginia for For My Sister in the River and For You
Robin Ekiss of San Francisco, California for Rosabelle, believe; and Pelagic
Tess Jolly of Brighton, England for Graffiti and Gift
Allison Joseph of Carbondale, Illinois for Cartography and Emergency Librarian
Eric Leigh of San Francisco, California for My Mother Reads Tobacco Road, Notes on Drowning, and For Those Who Cannot Make the Journey
Erin Murphy of Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania for Inter—
Felicity Plunkett of Wooloowin, Queensland, Australia for October’s Road and Inside your Wardrobe
John Poch of Lubbock, Texas for Naming a Child, Lark Sparrow, and The Longer Half of the L
Kimberly Burwick of Ashfield, Massachusetts for Everything Lush I Know, Rich in the Eclipse of Home, and A Most Difficult Language
Xochiquetzal Candelaria of San Juan Bautista, California for The Irises
Chloe Green of Clagiraba, Queensland, Australia for Antarctica
Mihan Han of Richmond Hills, Ontario, Canada for On dirt roads, Autumn Evenings, and Destination
David Livewell of Woodbury, New Jersey for City Seeds and Weather-Wise
Christopher Locke of Milton, New Hampshire for Sunday, Mid-April; Listening to a Bard Owl the First Night at the New House; and Groupings
Lisa Ortiz of La Honda, California for Osifet
Rachel Richardson of Chapel Hill, North Carolina for The Horses
Emily Rosko of Columbia, Missouri for Sonancy
Jennifer Whitaker of Greensboro, North Carolina for The Woodcarver and On the Equinox
Kelli Russell Agodon of Kingston, Washington for Clothesline and Honeysuckle! And Now
Douglas Basford of Baltimore, Maryland for Thinking about Old St. Paul’s, Baltimore, Soon to Adopt Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Elementary
Timothy Donnelly of Brooklyn, New York for No Bird, Team of Fake Deities Arranged on an Orange Plate, and The Last Vibrations
Vicki Goodfellow Duke of Calgary, Alberta, Canada for Words for a Boy, Sketching a Tortoise; What We Bear; and On Whistler’s “Nocturne”
Julie Dunlop of Albuquerque, New Mexico for When All Else Fails
Scott Gallaway of Bowling Green, Ohio for The Grace Given a Birdwatcher and Something in Silence
Heather Hartley of Paris, France for Rapunzel on an Ironing Board, Sweet Woodruff, and Change of Seasons in Charleston
Anne Keefe of Highland Park, New Jersey for Maternal Caress, Paper Ships, and The Emerald Isle
Jennifer Koiter of Laramie, Wyoming for Darling Clementines
Dawn Lonsinger of Ithaca, New York for How to Hold the Living, Where they Wander, and Delicate Grip
Tolu Ogunlesi of Ogun State, Nigeria for Visiting the Yellow River
Alexis Orgera of Santa Monica, California for Brunelleschi’s Servant
$100: Honorable Mention
Dilruba Ahmed of Mountain View, California for Arrival, Ghaza, and Fable
Sampurna Chattarji of Thane, Maharashtra, India for Windchimes, Blue Heron, and Yogurt and Cinnamon Dessert with Rose Geraniums and Peach
Chanda Feldman of San Francisco, California for River Jubilee
Beth Ann Fennelly of Oxford, Mississippi for The Welcoming: An Ars Poetica; Not Knowing What He’s Missing; and Restless Sonnet for a Son a Week Past His Due Date
Jules Gibbs of Madison, Wisconsin for Vera, Jewelweed, and Wood Song
Sam Kean of Washington DC for Still Life and Ode to the Belly
Brandon Mazur of Parlin, New Jersey for Living Fossils
Shabnam Nadiya of Dhaka, Bangladesh for Cityscape
Michelle Penn of London, England for Family Portrait II and Grandfather’s Needle
Allison Seay of Greensboro, North Carolina for Aisle
Melisa Cahnmann Taylor of Athens, Georgia for Pressing Kudzu Flowers
Tess Taylor of Cambridge, Massachusetts for Route 128, Georgetown, Maine; Big Granny; and Elk at Tomales Bay
Kristen Tracy of Kalamazoo, Michigan for To the Tender and Midwest Autumn Day
Julie Marie Wade of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for Mainland, Nostalgia, and Whidbey
Our thanks to everyone who entered and
congratulations to our winners!
More punch than Kodachrome this day,
frothy brouhaha of early spring.
Filmy white blossoms of Bradford pear—
gossamer, ornamental — vault into the fountain
like suicidal brides. Magenta redbud. Kelly blade.
Black grackle shrill with happiness.
It's okay if that's the only song you know.
Bearable lightness of sun.
I pull a branch close to examine a bloom —
a five-petaled star, lace inside & out. In days
eclipsed by leaves.
I'm here today. I hope it's enough.
Opposite the sky,
is it much the same,
no fat cherubs strumming harps
but clouds skittering by beneath,
moon & sun cavorting under your feet,
stars scattered about like Scripture,
all those laws & cycles
frantically carrying themselves out?
Outside of time, as life trundles about
like a twisted tire swing unwinding,
do you look down
amazed as I am,
this thing called spring,
the way things live, saying,
yes, I must write this down
In the beginning was the Word.
No wonder, then, that we love words,
the small "O" the mouth makes,
the half-moon the hand takes
against the blank page of un-being.
A thing has no power unless it demands something from us.
kinetic as the swollen river in spring,
the revolving planets of our bodies,
the Eustachian shells of the conches,
the seeds burrowing down to bury their secrets
in pocketbooks of black soil,
the song of the earth like a mother's lullaby
I haven't heard in thirty years:
Sleep, little two eyes
Sleep, little daughter.
Home the still point of the pendulum swing.
home the remembering womb of the mother,
home the place the soldier returns with his last wish of breath.
There, on higher ground, I can't help but understand
my place in the order of things.
And that place is not large. No, not at all.
There, night focuses like a lens
as I sleep like a stone in my childhood bed.
Trains call out to each other like mourning doves
and it's the saddest sound I've ever heard —
the sound of many waters quenching love,
the tune of a mother's comfort just out of reach,
the familiar despair of my hometown at night.
A cool breeze blows in the shade of my spruces.
I stand here and await my friend;
I await him for a final farewell.
Gustav Wagner, The Song of the Earth
The way you came home the same, but different,
the way the house felt smaller each time,
quaint, half-timbered against European sky,
the way evening came as a surprise every night,
the way my heart's cymbals crashed
when you opened the window from the outside
and peeked in, laughing,
the way your face glowed at that moment,
the way your exquisite artist's hands
could not hold water,
though the fingers were not parted,
the way you gestured when you spoke,
just so —
the way you always sat in the same place
at the table,
the way it felt to remember with you,
the way you pried the shell open,
the way one grain of sand crept inside
and surrounded itself with pearl,
the way the flowers bloomed too late,
a riot of living and dying, all at once —
in the same way, the mélodie unfolds,
the Lieder cycle, written in the language of flowers,
poetry the master, music the servant
and then not —
thesis, antithesis: point, counterpoint
braiding themselves together and tiptoeing apart again.
that's the way our dance of forgetting began,
the way we emptied ourselves,
rinsing away the saccharine sweetness
like the granules of a bitter pill
we couldn't quite swallow.
this, then, must be
the untranslatable litost —
the way small blossoming things
get trampled underfoot,
the way fragile things
break in the same place over and over.
there's a crack in everything:
that's how the light gets in..
morning wheels over us
in its heavy, bright arc of self-clarity.
even here, in the land of legends,
we can't hold onto the myth.
Before the lifeguards arrive, yawning
in sweatshirts, climbing into their rickety nests,
before babies in ruffled suits crawl toward sun-weary mothers
flanked by sippy cups and inflatable alligators,
before the man on the boardwalk shaves ice
from an endlessly belled basin, handing down frail
paper cones dripping cherry,
there is a moment when the ocean just is, without us:
speckled gulls spiraling over mussel shells,
peaches and cream crabs strewn
the ecstatic cries of those birds over the breakers,
skimming the foam, snatching fish
while the surf beats its drum of Good Morning, cleaning
the shore so all our names can be written.
Where will Grandmother's wisdom go?
How to iron the pleats of my starched school shirts?
How to bathe a baby in the kitchen sink?
I see her, bent to the tomato vines, twining them to stakes
the beefsteak nearly break.
It seems she whispers to them, then limps inside,
a setting sun in her grasp.
She cuts a slice that nearly fills my plate, spreads
homemade mayonnaise on white bread,
makes my favorite sandwich.
I look out to her garden, those vines that will not snap
even in the strongest wind. I study the seedlings
she urges toward growth on the sill. How to keep rabbits
away, how to predict when each blush is perfect
are secrets she's been planting all these years,
deep in the earth's memory,
Senses regain the vividness
Shiraz unfolding seasons into a mouth
grateful for flavor; rosemary
rising as from an untended garden, that wild
splendor, from bread torn
roughly by hand.
Candles lit, new wicks flare like streetlamps
that usher in each evening,
their effort suddenly
The Bach fugue loved for years
graced with another movement: after the kiss
of needle to vinyl, before the first note,
are seconds of silence that sound
How easy it must have been
to believe their great bones
solidified in the mountainside
unearthed the first couplets
of greed and legend, easy to see
why every invented dragon
must have harbored some weakness:
an obsession with riddles perhaps
or tender flesh between the scales
over a deep and venomous heart.
How easy today to translate a ceiling
luminous with the inscrutable
stars whose shapes foretell a miracle.
Listen, poetry comes down to this:
some say to hold water in your hands
is to lose it. How they must believe
in the well. Choose the water itself.
the cabin by the river,
with no starlight, no moon
no tall wheatgrass
parting then sealing
each step taken,
still you can spot the blur
dropping down, clasping
some small wriggle.
Understand this is the last
gift. Fierce hunger honors
a life and lifts it now
over scrub pine, tree line,
snow pack, horizon.
Night after night,
season after season,
the shush of wings:
song of mole and snake,
spell of toad and mouse,
praise of shrew and sparrow.
Each time the claws strike
a blow, the beak welcomes,
one silence ingests another.
Loneliness? A short word.
Not far from where a coyote led me
over the sparsely timbered hillside,
I found a feather held in the sagebrush
flanking an abandoned logging road.
I knew the pattern, its bars of tan
almost the color of parchment
or more like that coyote's pelt actually.
The feather of a great barred owl.
You could say the darker, narrower
scribbles curving toward the quill
suggest rows of silhouettes in flight.
You could say a lesson might exist
in the wind's subtle dispersal of dust
trickling through Sheepskull Gap,
estranging that feather from its wing.
All you really need to tell anyone
is how a single feather was poised
so the tip of the quill wrote on thin air.
Beautiful is too small a word for Yosemite.
I haven't been here in years
and the girls,
contained in their soft, new lives,
have never seen anything like it.
The baby laughed at the tramping
of our feet on the gravel path.
Emma said the falls are like wild horses.
Her pockets are full of smooth, little stones.
I wish you could see the meadow —
how green is so many different colors.
We are coming home tonight.
The moon, our old friend, is almost full.
Someone gives the kids a flea market bugle.
They push their breaths through hard.
Cheeks hurt. Veins throb in young necks.
The harsh pwaaahhhh is a tongue stuck out
then pulled back, again the polite child.
Oh joy and pain, oh petal tender night.
Plum faces darken with unabashed strain.
When one comes up gasping, the others
grab for the instrument with grubby hands,
Everyone wants to play, even if it hurts.
Everyone wants the air to tremble at their least bidding.
Attaching the wings is the easy part.
A dab of glue here and here and stretch.
See how the light comes through, pinks the air,
drops a sudden pattern on the sidewalk.
Next the furred mask, the antennae like breathy threads,
and adjusting them just so in a mirror
made of puddle and sky.
The soul anticipates flight as if it were not imagining,
tastes the air, tests the wind, flutters
the veined wings, feels the small whir
in the center of itself, that engine of yen and excitement.
The daylight shifts and shifts back,
breath and magic and breath,
a world gone keen with glint and shine.
The air tastes like lemon and the secret
mouths of penstemon.
The soul scans the whole wide view,
lifts the costume wings and jumps,
both feet at once, into a horizon
as open as the beginning of a story.
He finds us in the last brush
of sunset, where we've wandered
down the beach path. The wind is up,
the lake alive, its shoosh
and boom tossing the old railroad ties
against the sea wall, the wind a reckless
spender, a shower of coins
in the cottonwoods.
We sit against the sandbank
with cups of tea, I am speaking
of something when you touch my hand
and he's there, paused
by the rustling stand
of cattails, alert and supple,
russet and fringed
in dusk, he is watching us
with his steady eye. One paw lifted,
He leans so slightly, delicately
toward us as the air brings him
our ten thousand scents: soap
and cloth, scalp
and breath, the intricate, whirling
particles of desire. Over my shoulder
the last ray is a gold whisker
in the low clouds past Huron lighthouse.
How does he hold his wild ground
here on this lost strip of land
between the lake, new beachfront condos
and the glitter and whine of old Highway 6?
He takes a long last look at us, keen
and considered, pauses to piss
on the marsh grass and trots off
into the branched
darkness under willows.
In a minute, it comes:
fox on the wind, pungent
as skunk, sharp as a crushed
green buckeye. You laugh out loud
and set the half-spilled cup
in the cooled hollow of your heelprint,
and suddenly I want to lean
closer, into your dizzying
whiffs and dangers, I want
to spring and take off running
down the hard-packed sand along the waterline,
I want to say something to you so clear
it can only be said in the bright
swift language of the bark.
Three days running I have waked
to his deep bass, my dreams pealing
with the zeal of fifty organs
pedalling at once. He strides
in the dim five a.m. down Spaight,
belting them out: How Great
Thou Art, and in the wavering towers of his voice
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. Above the trees
and drowse of houses, the light
In the middle of the block he stops and stands,
clopping his gloves
in the dawn silence. Then bellows like a vendor
of some rare fruit: Wake up! Wake up
everybody! His faith greatly more
than enough for all of us, his winged conviction
bearing the whole city aloft,
floating us up from our beds of sloth
that we might rise bleary-eyed through the rosy light,
bobbing among saints and angels.
The sloped field, fallow, on the farm's west edge
where the cedar grows straight as a plumb line.
The wind over the field, riffling the dry swells
of grass. The cedar pinning the corner down.
The crow who raises her racket of objection, then
flaps off, leaving the branches ringing.
The bent knee, the sifted floor of needles, bristled
fragrance sunlight coaxes from the branches.
The sun tipped just west of noon. The hollow
center: four trunks humming out like a compass.
The peeling, rusty bark, sap running up
its narrow channels, wind quickening the topmost
branches so the shiver runs all the way down,
into dark. The roots pricking up
their tiny hairs. The back at rest, against the trunk.
The caw far off. The sun. The hollow center.
your thin shell is fragile;
it cracks in the hatching,
a whole world is destroyed
so you can stretch
your damp wings
you're redder and softer
than a bruised heart.
You burst on my lips;
flesh and juice slip
free of the skin.
You have been shipped
across an ocean,
picked and packed
by peasant hands.
You have seen hope
tossed like seed to the birds.
How do you turn
all that sorrow into sweetness?
If I plant your stone heart
will you be able to grow again?
A blaze of dahlias and zinnias
burst from the black stem of the vase
pink and crimson. Scarlet-skirted fireworks;
a brave show
put on to mock death
They won't go far.
Like all humanity, their bright fire's bound,
Contained by the dark
glass of the jar.
The firefly lights the wild hare's eye and to the north
the white door opens under bare Ben Bulben.
Darkness inks all corners of the sky, light scuttling
for cover, resurfacing with the pale round moon.
Hayricks burgeon in fields as rowans fade,
summer growth waning. Wind rustles the musky
night, and ribbons of fog stretch into vapor. Ashen
and ghostly, a barn owl blunders across the horizon.
Toads nudge from mud baked by the sun's rays and croak a bass
to the crickets' hum; Carolan's harp couldn't compose such a tune.
This is the night old dames gather herbs to store
for samhain, when frost hoars the hardening earth;
This is the night when girls on the cusp of womanhood long
for a chance to dance with the king of the faeries.
The moon fades as daybreak lavenders the sky; crickets and toads
grow quiet while a doe and her fawn stir the mist across the woodline.
Dawn shimmers and approaches, shadows tarry at the base
of Ben Bulben and the white door closes once more.
Danielle Cadena Deulen
I once read a poem that compared
a pomegranate to a heart. And there
sparrows darting in and out
of the lines, violets throwing off
moonlight like old coats, and
a student raising her hand to say
I don't get it. Someone loved someone
else, though someone else didn't love
someone back, or someone else did
but there was an obstacle, maybe
the sparrows darted dangerously
near the pomegranate and pierced it
or the violets stole someone's letters,
kept them folded in their small blossoms
because they believed they deserved them
more than someone else. This poem
is based on that one. And also on
the time we took a scenic route through
aspens and you told me how they always
spread after a fire season because
when the pines burn down they leave
enough space for new trees to grow.
The poem was entitled, "For You."
And we kept driving and driving until
winter came, smoothing the roads white
with tiny combs of ice — your fingers
ready to sculpt my shape out of snow
so that you could ease into the hollow
chest and leave a pomegranate safe
from sparrows — the violets suddenly
confessing everything to the student
whose face opens like sunrise when
she says I understand now — I understand —
Rosabelle, believe was the phrase
Houdini and his wife agreed in secret
he'd repeat at the séance
after his death, if there was life
and he could say so.
No one knows if Houdini said
Bull's Heart, Black Zebra,
or Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifter,
when she asked
across the dinner table
what varietal of tomato he'd prefer,
or if they spoke to the other
divides of marriage: the shut mouth
and the closed door of sleep
into which they tucked each other,
accepting the long calm
like Edward Hopper, who painted
a woman (always his wife) in a silk slip
reclining on a bed, or standing
next to an open window
in the corner of an empty room.
The light streaming through
is white as a bird's eye —
and though we can't see it
on the canvas, birds sing all night
by that window, pollinating day.
No matter what we say to ourselves
in secret, I refuse to believe
the light that radiates from that page
or this one
Is anything less than
what it means to love
those moments of shared silence
and the empty room
waiting for us here.
While you sleep, the rain breathes in the eaves.
It erases the sea, what we know
of living on open waters.
The glass-gilled porthole widows the horizon.
It sleeps beside us,
a flat plane waved by ocean.
When I wake you, when I tiller your breathing
with rain, or surface like fish
into thought, your gentlest navigation,
I become oceanic — not scull, skiff, and yaw.
The lure of water is love.
The sleep of lovers is underwater sleep.
Twinned by night, we turn silent again
in the deep of it,
promised to each other's shores.
But to create a material thing which could be used
to give voice to the decree, what word did you speak?
Saint Augustine's Confessions
Love. The word I said
was love. Say it to me now
where the cold October sun
frosts the pane and you
unleash your breath on the glass;
where exhaust fumes grime
the van's exterior, instead of
Please clean me, write love.
With a stick in the sand
beyond the tide's grip
a knife in the bark
of your favourite tree,
with Autumn leaves gathered
from wherever it is
you go these days
or by clearing a path
in the air between us
through the motes which cloud our eyes
instead of dust, spell love.
Through the trees we walk
into the gathering light.
A deer dips its hooves to the ground
then listens — startled by a sudden
shift in the air. Whiskers quivering
a rabbit noses the dew-spun grass,
all senses poised while in silence
we breathe the day in, blessed
by this moment that binds us in mystery,
soaks us in reasons for living.
I like the rough topography of you:
your stubborn toes, tough soles and bumpy heels,
enjoy the heavy way your muscles feel —
stout thickness of your calves, your legs askew
beneath the bed's blankets. No bold tattoos
disgrace your thighs or rear, just scars that peel
in their own time from scrapes that make you real,
that make you mine, for my exclusive view.
And I like where you're smooth, your broad pale back,
your shoulders — bare and waiting for my touch,
your belly, round like mine. I love that chest,
especially when you pull me in, body wracked,
my sobs from some odd grief. I love that clutch,
that span of arms that shows me where to rest.
Does she speed up in an ambulance
or a bookmobile? Or does she dash
into neglected neighborhood classrooms,
clad in white coat, sensible shoes, yelling
get that boy a paperback stat!, snatching
video games out of sweaty clutches
with a single grab? Teachers call her
when no ordinary bookwrangler will do,
confident she'll make readers of the most
illiterate, the most belligerent, the bored
and sullen. With her, the story hour never
ends, and her stories send a child around
the world and back, a fluid fluency
of dialect and custom, alphabets
and hieroglyphs. Instead of a stethoscope,
she wields a cart laden with books,
literary miracle worker, woman who gets
the most hostile child to love reading,
eager to teach what he's learned to another
new reader, the shyest girl reaching
for the brightest picture book, moving
from easy readers to eighth-grade level
in a single afternoon. She can never
feed them enough language, enough
characters, for they are always
wanting more from this sorceress,
this priestess, a conjure woman of words
in bifocals and turtleneck sweater.
Only thirteen and already a star
pupil in the school of hard knocks,
she cracks open the book to the day's
last lesson: someone else's misery
can quiet your own. Extra credit: a heart
has no avenues, just a puzzle
of dirt roads that snake for no reason.
She reads until the flashlight dies.
Tomorrow, another day of putting on
and taking off her mother's apron,
of gathering dandelion greens
and making a meal out of bitterness
to feed children who never get full
and always take her for the one who bore them
into this world, where each of them
will one day play the part
of that young girl Pearl — wedded too soon
to sorrow, hunger, a no-good man.
Not her. Not ever. She tells herself
and sleeps. Years later, her marriage shot,
the house sold, she pulls down the book
just to throw it away. Some roads
don't need to be braved twice, a decision
born of fear, respect, or a little of both.
Another day of this, waiting for the pills to find you here and lift.
I see myself in the collapse of your body: age seven, a final exam
in Swimming One, the twenty-foot deep end. How the instructor gave
a shove and I went into the pool. I was supposed to let nature take me up.
Instead, I settled to the bottom where I found a counter sky —
one that I could touch. The smooth of tile felt right against my chest
and calmed me; my mouth full open to the chlorinated rush.
When the metal pole appeared to fish me out, I wanted only to be left;
but my hands took hold, and I was hauled back into this lighted world.
The first thing you say today is that part of you is dying. Let it.
There will be many drownings, and for each you leave something
at the bottom. And for each you learn a new way to breathe.
A woman is dying, a matter of days.
And what can neighbors do
but bring her small indulgences?
Plates of veal, of lamb
dressed in mint and rosemary. "Lovely,"
she says and, "Pass the wine."
We talk weather, she talks probate
and how much you tip the gardener
until the only thing left to do is dishes.
We try our best, but nothing can keep
her from the sink, now that every odd job
is another goodbye.
Instead, she wants us to be her eyes,
to help her see the city from the rooftop,
because she cannot brave the flights.
"It's up to you," she says, "to climb the stairs
and call it down to me." We don't want to
leave her, but can't refuse.
So we give in, ascend. And in voices
Not quite our own, we call down the halos of fog
round the bridge lights, call the scent of smoke
from the chimney next-door, call the steam
of our breath, call the shiver of wind,
call down the full, buff moon.
Inter-: between, as in my first newspaper interview,
the one with the man who'd come to art late in life,
whose bronze and granite sculptures craned impossibly
from pedestals as if trying to unearth ancient crumbs.
We talked about the lost wax process, the quarry
where he cut his own stones. When I asked about
his wife, he paused, then stepped back half a century
to the night when they were post-war newlyweds
staying in a mid-town Manhattan high-rise hotel.
Let's say it was the 10th floor, three stories above
the fire truck ladder at its tallest. This resourceful soldier
knotted bed sheets, grabbed his bride and climbed
down one level, one and a half, two, and then...
and then, in smoky haze between stories, he lost
his grip on her and she fell —
Interrupt, interpret, interstitial. Say it: interstitial,
interstitial — feel the way it shushes between your teeth
and tongue. Or inter, the word journalists use for bury.
As I left, he lifted a wooden base to reveal the secret
counter-weight that let him defy physics. In his dreams
he wasn't the hero poised to catch her on the sidewalk
below. No, sleep gave him the chance to forget
her birthday, to scoff when she took too long
choosing shoes for church, to practice the art
of taking her for granted, letting love slip slowly
between his indifferent fingers.
We slid down October's road to find the first days of spring.
In Newcastle you and I stayed at the hotel that gazes at the beach.
You toddled, shrieked, pulled towards the sea,
shook shells to unrattle their secrets.
Something about your small sandals in my hand
caught childhood for me: I was a child again.
Slow late afternoon rays raked stripes on the coldening sand:
grey, gold, grey: like lines drawn by giant fingers.
All day the thought came back, moving in my mind the way a sleeper turns:
something is ending.
Yet there I was with you, still a miracle to me. And with me, too,
your unborn sister who would wake to a morning fresh with death.
My father was to meet us at the freeway's end
as he had a year ago, and in the years before.
He liked to share the driving, to make the gesture of meeting us.
But now this generosity was too heavy: trains' roar, traffic, speed:
the trip's jolts would be unbearable.
Every journey now, he had eyes' coins cold in his palm, ready.
That last short segment of road was straight with loneliness.
It spelt the start of driving without a compass, of being at the front.
And giant fingers were at play here too:
clumsily arranging cars on the road, as though through blurred eyes,
unveiling the certainty of death in glimpses,
real and unreal like the face of an unborn child,
making all the lines of a neat life wavy, strange, grainy.
Lines of frocks: Sunday, special day, everyday frocks.
In an era of frocks each of yours knew its place.
When you kneeled over the green shoots
in the evening of your garden;
when you poured cups of tea for the patients who waited
on your veranda, for your husband, the doctor;
when you walked the three miles into town
to give someone warm scones, a bunch of silver beet
or a piece of your mind;
or stooped in the waning light
writing to your grandchildren, all girls:
your frock always said what it needed to, no more.
Now I run my hands through mended cotton, starched linen
stiff skirts, blouses that remember the body they have held
and my touch awakens mothball and mint, lavender unravelling
its dusty flowers, its ghostly scent.
Which one did you dazzle in, a young bride brought
to this small town by your new husband:
passionate, scholarly, mercurial, carrying joy and grief
in his pockets for you, as if you were a child, and these his gifts?
Which did you wear when you came home from hospital
leaving behind your baby who had died,
wearing the stares of the people who would say nothing?
Which for the days when your three plump babies
made and remade you a mother, proud, loyal and soft?
Or when you set out alone, a widow, travelling into a new life
leaving behind a marriage always carefully mended,
hand-washed with a kind of frugal pleasure
darned to outlast the summers that faded it?
A dozen scaled quail weave their worried patter
through the sage brush to our back porch.
I cluck and the lookout mother
on the bush perks up, the chicks scatter.
An orange wasp mauls passionately the spearmint flowers.
An old story, the birds and bees come to summer.
Waking just an hour ago,
I watched you shift within
your mother's belly in the morning sun
like someone kneading dough
from the inside out, awkwardly comic
but sacramentally sure in your work,
your play. On the stage of the wet desert dust,
this humble mud, did the blood-bright sun wake you
and, with last night's brief rain, make you
something new like an adobe church
whose rounded buttresses breathe, shine,
and shadow in the first long light?
How can I write of ghost towns and mining
when there are clouds that look like fat horses
leaping from the mountains?
I know the hands of old men have trembled
when whole gold nugget buddhas
like tiny babies tumbled
from the quartz veins in these mountains,
but the blonde tufts of those quail
and the hunger of the wasp shine now.
Little actor, play within a play,
body at the center of a body,
historic lover of the mine
and heaven and the birds between,
I am your audience applauding.
My prayer: turn toward the light the same
as you will turn toward your name.
Let me be drawn to you
and not the elusive Yellow-billed cuckoo.
Rather than the colorful dozens feeding
in the understory of the broad-leafed trees,
specifically the villainous red-eyed vireo,
I prefer your symmetrical beak
navigating the side-oats, your chestnut cheek and brow,
the white around your slick black eye.
Yours is a Clark Kent cheer, or a purer sorrow.
The swallows with their shining superhero-purple heads
ride their invisible roller coasters, ridiculous all day,
and the wrens ascend and descend like nervous angels
their ubiquitous ladders, while along the river
the supercilious kingfishers complain.
But you, my nearly plain one, you shun the coasts
and line the cup of your well-made nest
with grass and one sun-bleached straw wrapper.
You sing on your low perch when you are satisfied.
Enslaved to your plain behavior,
how could I forget you choose to share
the field with me? You choose to hop the earth.
Let the earth be dust beneath our feet
and each occasional flight.
May your loneliness leave
only lovely long lawns after.
May this green's light leaves
Lift to rafters laughter.
I do not know the names of things,
but I have lived on figs and grapes,
smell of dirt under moon
and moon under threat of rain,
everything lush I know
an orchard becoming all orchards
flowers here and here
every earth I have left,
every brief home-making,
the lot of God blooming vines
right now, then, and always.
Leave the rabbitbrush and low larkspur,
the harebell and northern sweetvetch,
fireweed in the burn
blooming in blunt uproar
as if the world's wings were red
but light as the song being made
by the sagethrasher.
How unfair that romance
means only idealized remoteness
when the wild blue flax
flames through rimrock snow,
sweet hunger, threshold, full-grown berries.
I overhear myself
singing back and staggering
to find the sun.
Truth is, the marshes
are not filled with blackness only.
Absence does not whiten the grass.
Death will take each of us separately,
and the finer threads of sweet flag
which grow on hazel and rise above
the surface will keep the other here,
where earth graduates to perfection
and moves on. What is it
but the specificity of the bloom,
red maple keys, land
that fruits and fruits again.
What harvest offers before the harvest.
It's a long way
to hide the dead bird
inside your heart.
Their green sepals begin like mouths, forming the word
okay, turning over at the tips to say
yes, then oh yes.
Three deep purple petals smoldering give way
to three more giving way.
Fire breaks through as a seam in the center.
These are messengers remembering that to speak
one should bloom and to bloom
is to sing and sing and sing.
Inhabiting the insides
of a steel bird
its rotating feet
through the water
ice paper sheets
early in the morning
the fresh air
that fills the lungs
with a clean crispness
that I am convinced
I have never breathed
before that moment
that would be Antarctica
I took my first steps
on dirt roads. After the rain
my feet burrowed into softened earth, leaving
grinning at the sky.
But who will know (now
that they've paved these old roads
that I walked here once, and left
impressions on the land?
always remind me of
a burst melon
falling from branches
to feast on sunset
I will remember the moments
in your passenger seat (even when
vision begins to fail and
images of you then blur) like
the landmarks we sped past,
when rain echoed
our two hearts dancing (to radio
songs I've already forgotten) and
two hands touching held
more meaning than these words.
My mind will forget
flashing signs, and billboards.
scenic lookouts, and
things I'd meant to say and show.
(all the landmarks of our journeys
even your face).
But my hands will still hold your shape
in the thinning air
and my slowing heart will still keep time
with yours, counting the moments until
we arrive at our destination
always too soon.
In Jersey woods they float from sycamores,
Blend with the duff. No curbside clusterings.
No sequined clouds that parachuted Spring's
Debris and clung to screens of row house doors
In Philadelphia. On my old street,
They scudded asphalt, roved for soil, their stalks
Snagged on the pitch-smeared roofs and creviced walks
Like dark horizons hatched with feathered wheat.
While marble saints were purple-draped in church,
They gilded ladies' veils at altars bare
For Lent. They shimmered on the students' hair
As if no culvert mouth could end their search.
But here New Jersey's shattered buttonballs
Blow through the growth, achenes that mix and whir.
It's a young breath, all buoyancy and stir,
That charts a course. It's memory that stalls,
On a cramped street, a boyhood galaxy
Dead for a million years, whose light has just
Reached an observatory locked in dust,
A fertile lens that waits inside of me.
In paints and patches, festive Autumn takes
Its vows with you, its pair of Summer fugitives,
And weather-wise the season flickers, folds
Saffron on crimson, gold on brighter gold
Around a love proclaimed, a quest that holds
A converse with the trees, a pageantry
That stays the winter's dark assault. Today,
With constancy and faith, you harvest time.
A young boy photographed the moon and held
Its brilliance in the landscape of his mind.
Now, in his lover's qualities, the moon
Tonight will lacquer vaulted limbs and silver
Vermont's mosaic hills: the yellow birch,
The aspen, sugar maple, ash, and beech.
So, too, the mind's October rummages the heart
When Autumn's gone to earth and errant winds
Conspire. Such inner weather time has told.
May all your seasons catch with flame and intertwine
Our love with yours — vibrant, ringed with gold.
He sets the fly and casts,
thin arc unfurling
over water, running a length
of mirrored sky — clouds
ripple. Silence rolls
its tongue against the long
buzz of waiting as more line
unspools. In the pines,
a jay snags his voice
on spindled branches.
The man blinks, feels a tug.
Spring hooks its weight
beneath his fingers and
the ache he knows
as joy soon lies gasping
on the bank, freer
than the vagrant hearts
living in us all.
He doesn't really care who
cooks for you, or anyone else
for that matter. He's not
interested in the glass
of chardonnay pinpricked
with moisture beside me
as I write this in bed, or
that fatted roll of skin
I casually peeled away
from the buttery salmon
earlier. And he cares much
less if I made dinner myself
or paid someone to do it.
The truth is, all he wants
is to pong his question up
to that white talon of moon
piercing the clouds, and then
back down to me, my window
open to a heat wave since
vanished, cool dark air
rolling over a sill that needs
its final coat of paint.
Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica
High in the early morning
trees, when the sky's still gray
and soporific, howler monkeys
unleash their resonating yawps,
pulling us from sleep. We lift
slightly from our hammocks, satisfied,
knowing they are only announcing
their splendidness. But the first day
was different, convinced something
horrible was coming, B-movie visions
of blood streaked fur and wild,
soulless eyes. We now settle back,
putting off that eight mile hike
for another hour, as above us,
one raises his mouth to the clouds
like a ram's horn. It reminds me
of when I was a child shrieking
through a playground — that joy,
that innocent belief you will never die.
My daughter asks
if I want to talk about osifets.
An animal I ask?
No, she says, like the osifet of happy
or the osifet of big is little;
what is the osifet of now?
Later? I guess. No, she says
the osifet of now is remember.
And I think for some reason of synchronized diving
the Olympics I saw on a very small television,
pairs and pairs of male bodies
jetting off two boards
and it must be slow motion for them
the delicious spin and flip downwards
gravity, the old patriarch, pushing on their backs
then the smooth way they enter shoulder to shoulder
the water, the speed of falling
the opposite of languish, remember
the opposite of tumble, remember.
my daughter asks
when I was a baby? I do, I say.
Tell me what you remember she says
and I tell her. I wrap
her in my arms and cover her
in all I can remember
and all this while
we are diving, our bodies stretched
our heads tucked
against the approaching blue.
Under the live oak. and out along the stretch
where the moon lights the gravel white —
they're blinking, flanks brilliant,
they're turning their heads. See them
not going anywhere particular, just standing now
outside the gate because the gate is open again
and the road what's beyond.
Some tilt their snouts up to the branches
to nibble at clusters of mistletoe; one shakes
her mane free of flies. Someone left the gate open
so they've walked from the dewy field;
see them gathered, scattered all over the road
under the stars, directionless, blowing warm air
from their nostrils. They have no debt to anyone.
Who knows how long they've stood
there, askew in the night, shuffling and
huffing steam. By morning the rancher will find them
under the low trees by the river
or in someone's flowerbeds in town. Not because
they are parched or starving. They walk
because night stretches out, and there is a road,
and someone has opened the gate.
It's been proven — the universe hums.
Each vertebrate, each critter goes forward
perpetually to a larger prairie; each distinct
quark jostles, strangely buoyant, in its tension/anti-
tension hold. The quiver a flexed note
on the atomic scale: first a hiss, then a wail
saturating the muck, the matter. All
together the void an operatic 'O,' steadily
declining into an insect's thrum. Wingbeat,
tendril, network — a leaf-like imprint
on the neuron's pulse. So it's been said
to instruct: the refrain, the song's patterned
phrase resparks the brain. Ocean-deep
currents, the canyon wren's cascades, the first flute
fashioned from the femur of a bear. Rattles
and drums to stir the organs. The cow
that goes moo, the sheep that goes baa — all of it
a yip and a yawp. Each sound color-charted,
a prismatic wash in the canal. Vowel and key.
The brass-glazed tone the sun
casts onto glass, onto the meadow's particular
fineness, each stalk and blade, makes
one bend to hear. The sky's a listening
booth, a cathedral in each ear.
I carve a baby from the walnut block —
chip out arms and fingernails and knees,
smooth his cheeks with sandpaper,
finally thumb his small face free
from wood chips and dust.
Then to the coast my walnut child and I go,
to the slush of boots on wet-shelled sand,
to the plumes of smoke rising from lobsterboats.
He grows and grows daily, until one night
I hear his hard footsteps down the stairs,
and the front door shuts quietly as
I sit on the porch swing,
rocking to the beat of some faint
She makes spiced black tea
and drinks it from bowls,
carries the souls of the dead in pumpkins,
smooth and burnt. The candle's flame
licks the dry yellow meat of the fruit.
Her father always wanted his ashes
scattered over High Knob, scattered
by wind that ropes through trees and stones.
She waited until the day and night stretched
evenly to pour his ashes into a hollowed gourd
and travel the long drive to Norton. When she found v
that thrust of rock jutting from the earth
like arrow from a wound, she also found his desire
to sweep across the spreads of air, his desire
to hook past hickory trees and brambles
on the way down to the rushing fish-filled water.
Kelli Russell Agodon
In the pockets of shirts, in the open mouths
of washing machines —
carry today. In the suds of oceans,
in waves from sea to shore, in baskets
full of towels and unmatched
ladybugs, flittering from washcloth to wet
washcloth. In ghosts of fathers billowing
like clouds, bright sheets of morning.
In voluptuous angels drifting over grass
and hollyhocks, blue jeans
like flags of familiar countries. So many ways
to walk away, so many reasons
to stay and watch the sparrows. Carry today
in the dresses on the white line,
in the silky skirt of a mother, a child,
in silhouettes pinned to the sky.
with a bouquet of bees
and you listen. In blossoms,
nectar collects like prayers.
There are no words for wildflowers,
no name for the melody
in the bell-shaped blooms.
So you listen. Listen to the tune
of crickets sheltered by vines,
listen to the small songs
of a garden trying to tell you
how much you have, how little
you need to own.
You uneducate what comes to you,
much like an opal does to light.
All olives come with dolphin skin.
You heard that inner-city kids
can't pick out lace from a pile
of assorted fabric. You felt alone
the moment you knew you'd return
that bag of new potatoes, russet
in name only, the mold-dust, almost
opaline, more nearly gunmetal-like.
And it's tonight, of all nights,
you have to discover these things.
If it could just wait until morning,
your new neighbors likely won't mind,
will even curry caution that you
get it right the first time. You set out
a second dish for the discarded pits,
trivets, napkin-rings, under trained eyes.
They all begin by commanding you to praise
things like sea thistle, pinecones, a crate of tangerines
stacked into a ziggurat like one you envision
ticking under overgrowth, ancient and counting
down deep in the tropics until at last a certain
heavenly alignment triggers the doomsday, what then?
To think nothing might feel good for a time, the way
walking can, just moving around, turning
right whenever you happen to, heading along
toward nowhere in particular, getting there almost
without really trying or memory of where
you started out from, much less how you'll ever get back.
I don't want to have to. I don't want to have to
locate divinity in a loaf of bread, in a sparkler,
or in the rain-like sound the wind makes through
mulberry trees, not tonight. Listen to them carry on
about gentleness when it's inconceivable
that any kind or amount of it will ever be able to
balance the scales. I have been held down
by the throat and terrified, numb enough to know.
The temperature at which no bird can thrive
a childhood feeling that I feel now, remembering
down the highway half-hypnotized in the
backseat feeling what I feel now, and moderate
happiness has nothing to do with it: I want to press
my face against the cold black window until
there is a deity whose only purpose is to stop this.
Maybe indolence is a form of conflict between oneself
and everything else in the room, and turning
inward and away is a step toward peace, or into it.
Or maybe peace would be more like turning
toward with hands outstretched, an open look
through measured breathing. Either way, I like it.
I know I do. I like the way it sounds when I sing.
I like to see amber light from the pages
of a book I'm not reading. I like the clock's unstoppable
escapement and the cornstalks wrung with blue
convolvulus, a treacherous vine whose flowers
look like drunken trumpets. Look at that look on the face
of the hardworking woman staying home from work..
She deserves it. Look at that Indian elephant
decimating peppermints. I like it. I like what I see
and I am not indolent. I like a nonexistent Deity
and a team of fake deities arranged on an orange plate.
I like what I've done though I know it won't last.
And even if there is a Deity, I still like the idea
of a team of little fakes, and if we turn their invention
into a contest, you can bet your ass I'm winning.
Meanwhile we wanted the sentence to continue
fading as we thought another would begin
only after the first had finished and the last
vibrations seemed not to extend from the sentence
anymore but the fact that we had heard it
fading there together. The air off the river
remembered our being someplace else, or a time
behind us waiting to return, and the chill
presented a case for returning, knowing what
happened next must somehow depend
on dismantling much of what happened before.
Therefore we tried to prolong the sentence
to give ourselves time to decide by repeating it.
Time to decide. We knew that we couldn't
determine what happened down to the detail
but felt we might determine how the mind
should turn to meet it, the mind having often
believed itself to be struggling to continue
or thought itself that struggle to begin with.
With time to put that thinking aside, we thought
yellow leaves had torn through the blue
partitioned into day, but it was nowhere
apparent that they had. Down a channel of houses
framed in river air, we thought we could see
a portion of the water, but what we took for water
had foiled itself into a field of yellow light.
We knew that we might go on like that forever
without progression because the thought
of moving forward kept holding us back, the way
the thought of keeping still made us want to
throw ourselves like light on the river, unburdened
of that thinking we imagined might extend
endlessly thereafter, the way we thought we wanted.
Light, river, air. Through the time that we made
we felt what happened dismantle into yellow
leaves thought prolonged into trembling sentences.
Thought, leaves, houses; the last vibrations
faded to be remembered, in a place we would never
finish imagining, and it was there we began.
Vicki Goodfellow Duke
Begin by looking at a desert dune,
the undulating ripples.
A crystal of salt, one snowflake,
the curlicue of a plump grape tendril.
Bring the order of the stars
to the page, and he will be
a creature of pattern
Build him a carapace, hard enough
for bounds, sufficiently soft
for bonds, with a high dome
and an ocean of silence
Do not apologize that he cannot swim.
Give him four short legs.
Hold your breath while he loiters
an afternoon on the grass.
Tell him the fable over and over.
Add one or two tears,
for all things worthy are born
Remember a little chore, well done,
and whisper to him that greatness
may have small hands,
that girth is neither perimeter
around ability to give it love
nor to receive it.
At first, a colossal trunk.
We strain under the bulk,
depth and width,
the weight of what lies inside.
Endure by dividing
its mass, share
edges and corners,
manage the heft
Leaning in concert,
to raise it off the ground,
toil to carry it through
and through. Later,
when vast walls yield
how gravity fails to pull down
the heart, the force
that moves us.
The other hands,
what hold us together.
A rocket falls
and night becomes heaps
of gilded darkness
tempered and crackling,
We mourn the broken edges,
smear of smoke and coal
smudged across a navy canvas
let our gaze determine depth
of a river, the sunken warhead
hidden by water's blur.
We measure the distance
and rise, and we choose to go on
like the river, with surge
sailing our small fleet of lights
a flight away
When all else fails, drink water.
Feel the cool pour of the liquid
travel the open space of your throat.
Keep drinking. Imprints of pearls
and abalone pulse in your swallow.
The deep well of renew
is within you now.
Reach into what is there:
the power to grow gold blooms
from the dull shell of seed.
When all else fails, count your toes.
Notice the smooth arc of their symmetry,
the clear faces they lift up to the world.
They are small flocks leading you forward,
as committed to their role as the sun.
When all else fails, peel an orange.
All that bright color falling away.
The brief song of orange globes, enough.
Now, the slice of your nail carves
The no-longer-needed from the needed.
Smell the sweet spray of the fruit’s joy.
The peel is no less beautiful for being thrown away.
When all else fails, clean the stove.
Scrubbing away particles of dried food
clears the chance for smooth shine.
Memories of previous meals will feed you
as you remove tiny specks lingering
like the one comment, more delicious than the food.
When all else fails, fold paper.
Feel the sharp crease, watch how ends meet.
Shapes emerge! Look at the bird
born from your patient folds.
I watch for the balance, the rest
On the wind, the perfect lightness,
Like a small speck of light in the eye
After pressing the eye, taloned love.
And when they land on sand or water,
Especially then do they have style,
Imperfection forcing adjustment,
Decision, a personal grace.
But mostly, they fly without thought.
When my wife catches me gazing
Out the window, I vaguely explain
How birds are vehicle and tenor,
Words that sound so apt, they must
Be true. The pleasure of smoothness
And things working right,
Like a good pen, or the side
Of a breast, we also know
Without thinking. The places in between,
Where a bird might dance
With his reflection in a hubcap,
And where grace resides. Ultimately
I lose my way in explication to her –
Proof of my humanness, my tripping
Along, bumbling absurd, and she
Only smiles, showing the same slick light
As feathers in the complexity of air
And spirit, a twitch and a swiftness.
The pause of clock
Repeated won’t allow
Rest. I pick it out,lift
It from the other
Hundred silences in a night
Devoted to the hours
Turning, a nightmare
Of continuity. The dogs
Down the street howl
In response to a sound
Only they can hear.
I turn on my pillow,
My old comrade in the war
I try to move forward
With filled thoughts
Seeping into each other.
A bat flits by my window
On greased leather,
Its ears tuned to self
But turned to the world.
When I once threw a pebble,
A bat dived, hungry,
And crashed into my house,
Ignoring an essential aspect
Of self. Between the howls
I hold my ear like a shell,
Hear nothing but the inner
Tick of bone and blood,
Sounds I must choose to hear.
My mother and grandmother stand over the porcelain sink
with its long silver snout where water too hot or cold
streams out and onto my aching scalp.
The three of us are in the kitchen: red Formica, white sink, metal ironing board.
Dark clouds of copper pots hover above my head.
Flat out on the board, my feet reach halfway to the end.
I take tight hold and grit my teeth and count:
one, two, three, four, knots, nails, snarls, ouch –
yes it’s almost over yes it will end yes it will stop and not begin again
and then they’ll wrap my damp hair in a big blue towel
and I’ll be the queen of Sheba in my robe for an hour.
And they will smooth my hair over my shoulders
and braid little secrets into dark meshes
and I will have three guesses to guess their wishes.
And now, touching the crown of my head
or pulling back black loose strands
in the thick of my roots I still feel
the faint, leftover sting of their hands.
Slowly it grew back, that gift of sweet
Woodruff. Thank god – thought I’d killed it off – almost
Everything last month seemed to wither in the heat –
Even me – roots choked in baked earth. Yet the most
Terrifying thing: how indifferent I
Was. That Indian summer gift singed, no wood
Or sweet left, just burnt bark, November dry,
Overlooked, underfed. Then he said I could
Do it: cut out the dead parts … perhaps … I cut down to
Roots, almost unbelieving. See, I’ve killed all
Of my plants. It’s a bad habit I have,
Unintentional, yet quite revealing; a true
Green thumb. But your sweet woodruff proved this Fall
How roots survive, even as leaves starve.
We walk at high noon in mid-October
Down roads that lead to and from home: Lindy, Abney, Ravinia.
In West Virginia, fall is russet and maroon – sepia tones,
with some yellow and red and green,
but you have to look, she says, and every day is different.
A red bird in a birch. A cardinal in a maple. Blue birds across the street –
as we walk past, their shadows trace the limbs of trees
and darken the sky with beating wings – blue against blue.
The way words almost say what they mean.
We walk at high noon and shadows drop down to our knees.
The weather is mild; her hand curls around mine.
A dogwood tree looses its blooms.
All this time, her cancer coils and swells inside. Now there is nothing left to hide.
We walk as if nothing else matters toward the bend in the road
and nothing else matters and people pass and know
and do not know. I am once again five years old.
I never write about the sun, the importance of happiness –
but now seems to be the time. You see, life is not what it was:
cracks in the pavement, blades of grass, the iron gate where clematis grows.
Every day is different now: a fading newspaper in a clear plastic bag,
a white picket fence, that saltbox house, mounds of leaves –
I’ve never seen so much in so few streets.
Grandmother had never eaten
clementines, never felt
how easily the flesh of the fruit
unzips from its skin.
So she picked at the first
like a difficult orange,
chips of peel piling up
like unthrown confetti on her plate.
I boasted of undressing
my clementine in one long peel,
and Grandmother’s clementine peels grew longer, she ate
clementine after clementine, until she set one long whole peel
– Ha! – down hard next to mine
as if she’d got away with something, as if
she hadn’t known what could be
as easy as this.
Dim the lights for the fragile
finches. Drape the wings in cloth.
Fill the vase. You are performing a transplant –
carry the root ball as if it is the sole dream of
giraffes, the only answer to the desert. When
you water, drench. The skull bones haven’t
yet grown together, but eventually will meet
and fuse like tender continents. Attend
the performance of trees – the glass threads
of nests cradled inside the solarium, the thin shells
of eggs & vision intact. How the earth cups its oceans,
the oceans swaddle the land, the veins immigrate
to the heart, wrap it like a gift. How the hollow shafts
of feathers float. Let the fancy guppies out of
the sandwich bag slowly, the aquarium uncanny
as the delivery, then operating room.
At five months, he appears a messenger
vessel against the white sheet music of hospitals.
The doctor enters the amphitheater of light,
coat billowing like the milk that built
up his still small body, his mouth molded
to his mother’s breast like petals pursed around
a pool of pollen. Lean against the blue-tinted
glass. He has your eyes, but a swiss cheese heart,
platelets that don’t gather like a net over the wound.
He bleeds longer, the sun staining the fields with seeds.
Remember – his heart, unlike ours, has emerged
in light. Hold him close like cut and dripping flowers.
He has been flown in from the Porcelain Island,
the Fields of Indefatigable, has a name full of submersion
and direction. You plant silver chords and orchids
in his solar plexus, and he hears your hands
close – litany of spoons, the cherish of humming.
Place his small body on the piano while you play,
the acoustic dream-swell flooding his bird heart.
Wandering in the green extraño stitching of the sun,
two little girls trail us, look up as if into a cloud.
The ocean – dream of hydration & flight – folds
over their figures, wets their skin with salt & abandon.
It is a playground of persistent invention.
Dust coats the clapboards, but does not screen the brilliant
paint – turquoise, cherry, sea green – shimmering where they wander,
small feet flat against the physical world, or pressing into the pedals
of bikes three times too big, chains rusted, but set in motion by
the electricity swarming inside them like manta rays. They hive and giggle,
pull green mangoes from their pockets, and without hesitation, grip
our hands, tiny life lines surging like rivers through mountains.
Stilted one room houses, giant spheres bursting into coconuts at night,
frigatebirds pirating the air, a shower of jugs, school with no paper,
anatomy of horses cantering along a shoreline, symbol of gun & coffee
bean, solitary lake front & barren trees rippling with gist, the rub of a rope,
breeze of plastic, dirty dresses and a melody of arms rotating around
the cold stone lips of the latrine, the road roadless.
Water our surrogate language, agua por favor, a cup of ocean
for a mouthful of bottled water, the buckets everywhere waiting
for the tears of gods. The water renovates everything, the plastic bag
no longer of commerce, but a form folding to light and touch,
the fingerless everywhere of the envoy, eyes shining like blue morphos
iridescent with rain, their hair damply dark as dreams, llenado de promesas.
Let us begin each day with an Ode to the delicate palms slipping
in and out of our hands – Maritza, Ramon – the same palms that initiate
the flower and evaporate tangents – Angelica, Hector – tend to the architecture
in their eyes–Juan Carlos, Virginia–as they fully attend this haphazard choir,
toss rocks over clotheslines, leap for the bulbs of cashew trees, lean against
the wood planks and laugh.
We dip our feet into the river and the earth swallows
our scars like stars misplaced and hurled into another cooling
cosmos of vast light and small wrists turning gently the pitcher
of grapefruit juice, the camera, the steering wheel, the volume
of songs – gossamer of thirst. How the red petals press
warm as breath against my palm. Yes, this custodian
of grass – the wires that truly transmit – glues buildings
neglected and bombed together with roots, remnants renovated
with the damp recital of moss, polished with the sun’s milk,
a declaration of interdependence – for everyone warmth
and illumination, for everyone starlings diving down.
Here we learn to love delicacy, how the bones barely touch
yet hold everything together, how the suspension bridge
suspends distance – synapses clasping the chorus. We pull
as we are pulled by tides & gravity & the tiny tough fibers
of the heart, and when we look up we see only water
and birds cascading into our future, our lawns transformed into
an auditorium of wings, glistening wet things, the moon married
to our mailboxes. A place of no partitions but the palms
we cup and offer, the highways we drive through in the dark.
Leaves pooling in the margins, sun scalloping the frames.
If we put the guns down for a week the earth will drink them
down into her pit of fire, rust & algae blooming.
She already blows sand across the sharpshooter’s face,
forces him to close his eyes.
How can you (without a pang of conscience) my host
And guide, say that you have suddenly fallen short
Of enthusiasm? What will happen to my dreams
Of seeing the Olumo Rock; and to the beating heart
Trapped in my feet, waiting to drown
Itself in the muddy waters of the Yellow River?
From far, far away, beyond the eye of the river
Have I come, possessed with the spirit of one held host-
Age, that I might in oceans of chivalry plunge and drown;
Knowing how blest it is to be short
On fear and long on the courage that steels the heart.
For what is fear if not a song trapped eternally in a cage of bad dreams?
Perhaps you have never numbered your dreams
Nor marvelled at the joys that spring like a river
Therefrom. The overall effect is like an upgrade of the heart
Or like sanctifying yourself with the host
That proceeds from the blessed hand of a priest. Cut short
At once your song of fear. You can learn to drown
Your doubts, just as the wine that fills your cellar learns to drown
Your sorrows. It is a shame when a man has no living dreams
Left to fatten. We shall cut his silken hair short
And leave him to gnash his teeth by the rivers
Of Babylon. Do you want us to sing for you, beloved host,
That the pillars of your manhood are weak of heart?
And it is no use pleading with me to take heart,
And to give you another chance, another time. I’d rather drown
In the lake of fire than pass up this chance to join the Heavenly host
(The roll call of souls who have chosen to die dreaming big dreams).
And don’t even think of warning me that the Yellow River
Is haunted by spirits. To accept anything short
Of a pilgrimage in the Yellow River will be to short
Change myself. I will not relent. Even if my heart
Ceases to beat, my blood will continue to be a river
That never grows silent, never ceasing to drown
Cowardice. For what could be worse than a dream
Visited by slumber, but too spent to play the sprightly host?
The heart beat of the gods still animates the Yellow River
Which is why my favourite dream is of me learning to drown.
Alas, I have a host who is a bad talisman, and my time is now very short …
In a locked cathedral they warmed the marble floors
with their bodies.
She diagrammed a love offering for Filippo:
her homeland in perfect geometrics
beginning with Mohammed’s own indestructible house,
its gardens and arcades, the ribbed domes of mosques at Mecca,
centuries-old ledges of herringboned brick
and carved stucco, the impossible dimensions
of ancient vaults and cupolas.
By dawn he’d seen every inch of her body,
Royal Mosque rising out of a desert of sketches.
He folded her drawings into his pocket, took her hand
to his mouth.
Forty years they traveled together like this:
servant following master
in and out of Santa Maria’s cathedral shadow
as he conceived the dizzying spirals that would fasten
a dome to the sky in a fixture of faith.
In those years the craftsmen of Florence
grew lungs thick as sandstone
carting bags of lime onto wickerwork platforms.
Swinging from baskets high above the city
workers drank wine midday.
Sparrows fell dead from rooftops
blackened by open-mouthed furnaces.
A great dome grew hopeful above the skyline
year after year, its massive octagonal bell shading the piazza.
Their secret kept them looking up
on a path worn by optimism. They grew old,
spines rounding into perpetual bows.
When they faced each other late at night
their bodies worshipped the cupola’s genius curve.