Thursday, August 28, 2008

How to Love the Dead - Jack Gilbert

She lives, the bird says, and means nothing
silly. She is dead and available,
the fox says, knowing about the spirits.
Not the picture at the funeral,
not the object of grieving. She is dead
and you can have that, he says. If you can
love without politeness or delicacy,
the fox says, love her with your wolf heart.
As the dead are to be desired.
Not the way long marriages are,
nothing happening again and again.
Not in the woods or the fields.
Not in the cities. The painful love of being
permanently unhoused. Not the color, but the stain.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Lives of the Mortals - Dean Young

Sad humans. You start out grasping
at something you can't see
and stay that way. It doesn't matter
if you're made of cardboard and glitter
or celestial exhale, you've been out in the rain
too long. You try to protect your sister
and she shacks up with Queequeg. You try
to protect your son and he takes up hang-
gliding but he's no butterfly,
he plummets, he does not hover.
Here's one who's married the daughter
of the Used Car King but he's only
a lesser god, maybe able to knock
off a couple bucks. Poor people,
that's all the godhood they'll ever get.
Maybe they can restart their hearts
but they'll be dead soon anyway,
the next batch crashing into stationary objects,
tattooing forever on their chests,
sitting beside the drained hotel pools
writing letters they'll never send.
My ankle hurts. I can't program my VCR.
Oh, my friend, I have lied to you.
It's only the minor wounds alcohol
can purify. If only they weren't mostly
water like carrots, dirty-tasting.
An arm goes through a neck-hole.
What's that falling from the window?
Some of them think they'll wake recon-
stituted in heaven, their hieratic
perms intact. Some think they'll be re-
cycled so don't step on that bug,
it could be Aunt Mike.
If only they were butterflies,
at least they'd have a flight plan.
If only his father survived.
If only her top rope had been secured.
If only.
And that's all the further that sentence goes,
a dependent clause with nothing to depend on,
a ladder with nothing to prop against
but clouds
which are a form of emptiness
made opaque.

A History of White People - Jerome Sala

white people were paid well
not to witness
the fact that they were white

you know the theory
white isn't a color
but color's unlimited absence

white goes with anything
that's why it seemed fair that white people
conquered the world

they were the real invisible men
cause they could perch on top of a country
and say they weren't there

they could move through its neighborhoods
like mysterious aliens
with this difference:

in ufological lore
aliens often infilitrate a world
without its inhabitants knowing about it

but when white people invaded
everyone could see them
but themselves

Boss of the Food Lois Ann Yamanaka

Before time, everytime my sista like be the boss
of the food. We stay shopping in Mizuno Superette
and my madda pull the Oreos off the shelf
and my sista already saying, Mommy,
can be the boss of the Oreos?

The worse was when she was the boss
of the sunflower seeds.
She give me and my other sistas
one seed at a time.
We no could eat the meat.
Us had to put um in one pile on one Kleenex.
Then, when we wen' take all the meat
out of the shells and our lips stay all cho cho,
she give us the seeds one at a time
cause my sista, she the boss
of the sunflower seeds.

One time she was the boss
of the Raisinettes.
Us was riding in the back
of my granpa's Bronco down Kaunakakai Wharf.
There she was, passing us one Raisinette at a time. My mouth was all watery
' cause I like eat um all one time, eh?
So I wen' tell her, Gimme that bag.
And I wen' grab um.
She said, I'ng tell Mommy.
And I said, Go you f----n' bird killa;
tell Mommy.

She wen' let go the bag.
And I wen' start eating the Raisinetes all one time.
But when I wen' look at her,
I felt kinda bad cause I wen' call her bird killa.
She was boss of the parakeet too, eh,
and she suppose to cover the cage every night.
But one time, she wen' forget.
When us wen' wake up, the bugga was on its back,
legs in the air all stiff.
The bugga was cold.
And I guess the thing that made me feel bad
was I neva think calling her bird killa
would make her feel so bad
that she let go the bag Raisinettes.

But I neva give her back the bag.
I figga what the f--k.
I ain't going suffer eating one Raisinette at a time.
Then beg her for one mo
and I mean one mo
f----n' candy.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Brooding Grief - D.H.Lawrence

A yellow leaf from the darkness
Hops like a frog before me.
Why should I start and stand still?

I was watching the woman that bore me
Stretched in the brindled darkness
Of the sick-room, rigid with will
To die: and the quick leaf tore me
Back to this rainy swill
Of leaves and lamps and traffic mingled before me.

Mother Expanding from the Piano, the Light, the Whales - Michael McGriff

Dust and blackberry carried on the wind,
sand moving hand over hand
in the dunes, memory,
like invisible paper, ribbons away
from the dead pulp mill.
We want proximity with how we feel
but it expands and divides.
The neighborhood is cold.
Across the street an old friend lives
her early widowhood,
leaves her houselights blazing
through the night. My mother
finds herself at her piano bench,
shuffling lieder. I listen, pressed
to my bedroom wall,
the hollow pedal-thump,
dust and Chopin moving through the room
on the back of the sun, parasites
on a whale of descending light.
My grandfather is dying, there’s light
around my mother.
Georgia Pacific’s closing its mills
for the last time in the ‘80s.
My father no longer raises
stickered 2x4s into the machined night.
What black keys does he hear
as he waits at the D.M.V.
for an endorsement to drive a cab?
The light around my mother
is the light of magnitude.
If it’s winter in this memory,
then cities of grief expand
in each drop of rainwater
and my mother positions her hands.
Offshore, one whale sings to a distant other
in a way that leaves
whatever’s between stunned,
the presence of song
rising toward its listener.
A light sprinkling of rain
ignites the scent of skunk cabbage
in the ravine behind our house.
The fir trees nudge each other
in the slight wind.
My mother’s left hand is grief,
her right, beauty.
She plays on the upright
with such patience, each note alone
makes its ringing orbit.
Somewhere in the future
I look up from the block-ice
I’ve been stacking
nine-high-a-pallet at the marina.
The wind kicks its low hum up the trees
and fingertips of light
pull along the shore.
Whatever’s moving toward me
has lit the salt fire of my lips.
I crane my neck
for the long look back.
My life is immense.

Those Winter Sundays - Robert Hayden

Sundays too my father got up early
And put his clothes on in the blueback cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?

Monday, August 11, 2008

An Horation Notion - Thomas Lux

The thing gets made, gets built, and you're the slave
who rolls the log beneath the block, then another,
then pushes the block, then pulls a log
from the rear back to the front
again and then again it goes beneath the block,
and so on. It's how a thing gets made -- not
because you're sensitive, or you get genetic-lucky
or God says: here's a nice family,
seven children, let's see: this one in charge
of the village dunghill, these two die of buboes, this
Kierkregaard, this one a drooling

nincompoop, this one clerk, this one cooper.
You need to love the thing you do--birdhouse building,
painting tulips exclusively, whatever, and
then you do it
so consciously driven
by your unconscious
that the thing becomes a wedge
that splits a stone and between the halves
the wedge then grows, i.e. the thing
is solid but with a soul,
a life of its own. Inspiration, the donnee,
the gift, the bolt of fire
down the arm that makes the art?
Grow up! Give me a f***ing break!
You make the thing because you love the thing
and you love the thing because someone else loves it
enough to make you love it.
And with that your heart like a tent peg pounded
toward the earth's core.
And with that your heart on a beam burns
through the ionosphere.
And with that you go to work.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Portage - Gwendolyn MacEwan

We have travelled far with ourselves
and our names have lengthened;
we have carried ourselves
on our backs, like canoes
in a strange portage, over trails,
insinuating leaves
and trees dethroned like kings,
from water-route to
seeking the edge, the end,

On earlier journeys we
were master ocean-goers
going out, and evening always found us
spooning the ocean from our boat,
and gulls, undiplomatic
couriers brought us
cryptic messages from shore
till finally we sealords vowed
we'd sail no more.

Now under a numb sky, sombre
cumuli weigh us down;
the trees are combed for winter
and bears' tongues have melted
all the honey;
there is a loud
suggestion of thunder;
subtle drums under
the candid hands of Indians
are trying to tell us
why we have come.

But now we fear movement
and now we dread stillness;
we suspect it was the land
that always moved, not our ships;
we are in sympathy with the fallen
trees; we cannot relate
the causes of our grief.
We can no more carry
our boats our selves
over these insinuating trails.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Conformity be Damned - Mary T McDonald

I have spent my life trying to cheat conventionality
to escape the accepted sanctioned behaviour,
like the time I was called to the principal's office
for allowing one of my students
to dress at Halloween as a bum with an empty flask in his pocket.

At 80
I decided on a senior's lodge.
It was inhabited by mythical figures
who sat on guard in easy chairs
at the wide entrance
and pushed their walkers in and out.

The surrounding formal gardens
seemed to be picked
from pages of the summer seed catalogue;
circles of nasturtiums
triangles of snapdragons
rows of marigolds
all stood stiffly
hemming the board boundaries of this edifice.

I want wild!
Give me a field of bent grasses
with the sharp odour of leaf and earth
where I could discover purple shooting stars
and buttercups,
maybe wild violets
and a robin that doesn't fly off the fence
until you get right up to it.

One day
I entered with my magnetic card
stood in the lobby
criss-crossed by moving walkers
and felt an uneasy awareness of being adrift,
of being perhaps
a thought.
Was I living a real life here?

I needed proof
that I occupied space
that I bled, I breathed.
I took myself to the stairwell
with its island of light
to find if I had a shadow.

I did
and I am here,
here where nobody else reads -
who tell me they are saving their eyes.

I have made the decision
to take up unorthodox haunting
as a vocation
in the afterlife.
My bag will be packed,
I will not go home at first,
become the holographic swivel of my den chair
or the pale light you think you see in the upstairs landing.

I shall drop
in the shape of a slug
on the lips of the smiling evangelist
who will speak loosely in tongues
and confound the network.

I shall hang easy on wind swept Mount Everest
against a face as clammy white as my own,
halloo to other challengers:
"Look no piton, no oxygen!"

And should my new country
be tragically empty of books
even words
then I must haunt
like tides
the libraries of London and New York,
stream through the 88 miles of shelving
wriggle out each book that beckons
curl in a fan-backed chair in the great foyer
and ghost read.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Phantom Limbs - Anne Michaels

"The face of the city changes more quickly, alas!
than the mortal heart."
- Charles Baudelaire

So much of the city
is our bodies. Places in us
old light still slants to.
Places that no longer exist but are full of feeling,
like phantom limbs.

Even the city carries ruins in its heart.
Longs to be touched in places
only it remembers.

Through the yellow hooves
of the ginkgo, parchment light;
in that apartment where I first
touched your shoulders under your sweater,
that October afternoon you left keys
in the fridge, milk on the table.
The yard - our moonlight hotel -
where we slept summer's hottest nights,
on grass so cold it felt wet.
Behind us, freight trains crossed the city,
a steel banner, a noisy wall.
Now the hollow diad
floats behind glass
in office towers also haunted
by our voices.

Few buildings, few lives
are built so well
even their ruins are beautiful.
But we loved the abandoned distillery:
stone floors cracking under empty vats,
wooden floors half rotted into dirt,
stairs leading nowhere, high rooms
run through with swords of dusty light.
A place the rain still loved, its silver paint
on rusted things that had stopped moving it seemed, for us.
Closed rooms open only to weather,
pungent with soot and molasses,
scent-stung. A place
where everything too big to take apart
has been left behind.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Father Outside - Nick Flynn

A black river flows down the center
of each page

& on either side the banks
are wrapped in snow. My father is ink falling

in tiny blossoms, a bottle
wrapped in a paperbag. I want to believe
that if I get the story right

we will rise, newly formed,

that I will stand over him again
as he sleeps outside under the church halogen
only this time I will know

what to say. It is night &
it's snowing & starlings
fill the trees above us, so many it seems

the leaves sing. I can't see them
until they rise together at some hidden signal

& hold the shape of the tree for a moment
before scattering. I wait for his breath
to lift his blanket

so I know he's alive, letting the story settle

into the shape of this city. Three girls in the park
begin to sing something holy, a song
with a lost room inside it

as their prayerbook comes unglued

& scatters. I'll bend
each finger back, until the bottle

falls, until the bone snaps, save him

by destroying his hands. With the thaw
the river will rise & he will be forced
to higher ground. No one

will have to tell him. From my roof I can see
the East River, it looks blackened with oil

but it's only the light. Even now
my father is asleep somewhere. If I followed

the river north I could still reach him.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Love - Pablo Neruda

Because of you, in gardens of blossoming flowers I ache from the
perfumes of spring.
I have forgotten your face, I no longer remember your hands;
how did your lips feel on mine?
Because of you, I love the white statues drowsing in the parks,
the white statues that have neither voice nor sight.
I have forgotten your voice, your happy voice; I have forgotten
your eyes.
Like a flower to its perfume, I am bound to my vague memory of
you. I live with pain that is like a wound; if you touch me, you will
do me irreparable harm.
Your caresses enfold me, like climbing vines on melancholy walls.
I have forgotten your love, yet I seem to glimpse you in every
Because of you, the heady perfumes of summer pain me; because
of you, I again seek out the signs that precipitate desires: shooting
stars, falling objects.

Visible World - Richard Siken

Sunlight pouring across your skin, your shadow
flat on the wall.
The dawn was breaking the bones of your heart like twigs.
You had not expected this,
the bedroom gone white, the astronomical light
pummeling you in a stream of fists.
You raised your hand to your face as if
to hide it, the pink fingers gone gold as the light
streamed straight to the bone,
as if you were the small room closed in glass
with every speck of dust illuminated.
The light is no mystery,
the mystery is that there is something to keep the light
from passing through.