Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Stone Sculptor

Stone Sculptor
by Fran Varian 

They walk each other
past the end of the tether they

go out walking after
midnight                  it is a two-step love affair

then dawn comes on,
a sweet persistent cramping
of every muscle they have ever flexed

for one another

They are a dance in black and white
Fred and Ginger with a twist

look at the girl

swaying red nailed stone sculptor
she is a tone poem                call her by her name

call her land and set sail

Her badge of courage read as blood smeared
across lips

before lowered to his ears

she whispers into the granite
of his night

"go on home boy."

She is the house of cards that
mercy built

she is a harder stone
for sure

so hard he cuts his teeth on her
and when she drinks his blood
he is the body

She says:

Boy, if you were your charm
I would take these potato picking baby shelf
hips & turn tornado for you

I am hypnotized by the music of
your scent which I carry on my tongue


you damn the serpent who
sees you

as though she lost you paradise by
way of the fruit

we are a two-step love affair
we are a dance

I am no less for the lipstick
I am no less for the lipstick
I am no less

for holding the music
like I hold you

up in the granite of
the nights we tumble through together

and when I arch my back to the work
of you

you are the body you were
born to be

I am a house of cards
impossibly built to
shelter your fickle intentions


I may be charmed
and I may be dancing for you
but I've got a mouth full of venom
I am a hard thing to break

so look at the girl

swaying          red nailed        stone sculptor

she is part of the dance
whether you claim her  or not

call her by her name

call her            hard blood smeared thing

who cuts through the granite of your night
like a diamond

(Note: This poem was posted on Fran Varian's essay, "This Girl Is On Fire")  

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Trajectory of the Traveling Susan

Trajectory of the traveling Susan 
by Marge Piercy

Round Susan, somewhere Susan,
Susan with suitcase and Berlitz book and stuffed shoulderbag
flies in the air sitting down.
Your spices are waiting under the falling dust.
Strange pussies are sticking their paws under the door.
Gottlieb sits in a corner with his head loose in his hands
and plays at poking out his eyes.
The ceilings are blackboards he has scrawled with
The mailman fills the box up with nothing.

Quail Susan, pheasant Susan
riding an aluminum paperclip
between the cold stars and the jellyfish,
remember us in the broken net,
come back to the wooly strands of the caring web
stuck between jammed weeks and waiting testily.
Each love is singular.
The strands hang loose.

Apricot Susan, applesauce Susan
stuck up in the sky like a painted angel,
you think the web is a trap.
You see mouths open to swallow you in pieces.
You see gaping beaks and hear piercing cries of fill-me.
Susan, you are a hungry bird too with mouth wide open.
The nets we build never hold each other.
The minnow instant darts through the fingers
leaving a phosphorescent smear
and nothing else.

Jagged Susan, enamel Susan,
Susan of sullen sleeps and jabbing elbows,
of lists and frenetic starts,
of the hiss of compressed air and the doors slide shut,
you can't hang in the air like a rainbow.
We are making the revolution out of each other.
We have no place else to begin
but with our hungers and our caring and our teeth.
Each love is singular
and the community still less than the addition of its parts.
We are each other's blocks and bricks.
To build a house we must first dig a hole
and try not to fall in.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ode to Repetition

Ode to Repetition 
by Ellen Bass

I like to take the same walk
down the wide expanse of Woodrow to the ocean
and most days I turn left toward the lighthouse.
The sea is always different. Some days dreamy,
waves hardly waves, just a broad undulation
in no hurry to arrive. Other days the surf’s drunk,
crashing into the cliffs like a car wreck.

And when I get home I like
the same dishes stacked in the same cupboards
and then unstacked and then stacked again.
And the rhododendron, spring after spring,
blossoming its pink ceremony.
I could dwell in the kingdom of Coltrane,
the friction of air through his horn
as he forms each syllable of Lush Life
over and over until I die. Once I was afraid
of this, opening the curtains every morning,
only to close them again each night.
You could despair in the fixed town of your own life.
But when I wake up to pee, I’m grateful
the toilet’s in its usual place, the sink with its gift of water.
I look out at the street, the halos of lampposts
in the fog or the moon rinsing the parked cars.
When I get back in bed I find
the woman who’s been sleeping there
each night for thirty years, only she’s not
the same, her body more naked
in its aging, its disorder. Though I still
come to her like a beggar. One morning
one of us will rise bewildered
without the other and open the curtains.
There will be the same shaggy redwood
in the neighbor’s yard and the faultless stars
going out one by one into the day.

Monday, October 14, 2013


by William Wordsworth

—It seems a day
(I speak of one from many singled out)
One of those heavenly days that cannot die;
When, in the eagerness of boyish hope,
I left our cottage-threshold, sallying forth
With a huge wallet o'er my shoulders slung,
A nutting-crook in hand; and turned my steps
Tow'rd some far-distant wood, a Figure quaint,
Tricked out in proud disguise of cast-off weeds
Which for that service had been husbanded,
By exhortation of my frugal Dame—
Motley accoutrement, of power to smile
At thorns, and brakes, and brambles,—and, in truth,
More ragged than need was! O'er pathless rocks,
Through beds of matted fern, and tangled thickets,
Forcing my way, I came to one dear nook
Unvisited, where not a broken bough
Drooped with its withered leaves, ungracious sign
Of devastation; but the hazels rose
Tall and erect, with tempting clusters hung,
A virgin scene!—A little while I stood,
Breathing with such suppression of the heart
As joy delights in; and, with wise restraint
Voluptuous, fearless of a rival, eyed
The banquet;—or beneath the trees I sate
Among the flowers, and with the flowers I played;
A temper known to those, who, after long
And weary expectation, have been blest
With sudden happiness beyond all hope.
Perhaps it was a bower beneath whose leaves
The violets of five seasons re-appear
And fade, unseen by any human eye;
Where fairy water-breaks do murmur on
For ever; and I saw the sparkling foam,
And—with my cheek on one of those green stones
That, fleeced with moss, under the shady trees,
Lay round me, scattered like a flock of sheep—
I heard the murmur, and the murmuring sound,
In that sweet mood when pleasure loves to pay
Tribute to ease; and, of its joy secure,
The heart luxuriates with indifferent things,
Wasting its kindliness on stocks and stones,
And on the vacant air. Then up I rose,
And dragged to earth both branch and bough, with crash
And merciless ravage: and the shady nook
Of hazels, and the green and mossy bower,
Deformed and sullied, patiently gave up
Their quiet being: and, unless I now
Confound my present feelings with the past;
Ere from the mutilated bower I turned
Exulting, rich beyond the wealth of kings,
I felt a sense of pain when I beheld
The silent trees, and saw the intruding sky.—
Then, dearest Maiden, move along these shades
In gentleness of heart; with gentle hand
Touch—for there is a spirit in the woods.


by Frank O'Hara

How funny you are today New York
like Ginger Rogers in Swingtime
and St. Bridget's steeple leaning a little to the left

here I have just jumped out of a bed full of V-days
(I got tired of D-days) and blue you there still
accepts me foolish and free
all I want is a room up there
and you in it
and even the traffic halt so thick is a way
for people to rub up against each other
and when their surgical appliances lock
they stay together
for the rest of the day (what a day)
I go by to check a slide and I say
that painting's not so blue

where's Lana Turner
she's out eating
and Garbo's backstage at the Met
everyone's taking their coat off
so they can show a rib-cage to the rib-watchers
and the park's full of dancers with their tights and shoes
in little bags
who are often mistaken for worker-outers at the West Side Y
why not
the Pittsburgh Pirates shout because they won
and in a sense we're all winning
we're alive

the apartment was vacated by a gay couple
who moved to the country for fun
they moved a day too soon
even the stabbings are helping the population explosion
though in the wrong country
and all those liars have left the UN
the Seagram Building's no longer rivalled in interest
not that we need liquor (we just like it)

and the little box is out on the sidewalk
next to the delicatessen
so the old man can sit on it and drink beer
and get knocked off it by his wife later in the day
while the sun is still shining

oh god it's wonderful
to get out of bed
and drink too much coffee
and smoke too many cigarettes
and love you so much

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Attack of the Squash People

Attack of the Squash People 
by Marge Piercy

And thus the people every year
in the valley of humid July
did sacrifice themselves
to the long green phallic god
and eat and eat and eat.
They're coming, they're on us,
the long striped gourds, the silky
babies, the hairy adolescents,
the lumpy vast adults
like the trunks of green elephants.
Recite fifty zucchini recipes!

Zucchini tempura; creamed soup;
sauté with olive oil and cumin,
tomatoes, onion; frittata;
casserole of lamb; baked
topped with cheese; marinated;
stuffed; stewed; driven
through the heart like a stake.

Get rid of old friends: they too
have gardens and full trunks.
Look for newcomers: befriend
them in the post office, unload
on them and run. Stop tourists
in the street. Take truckloads
to Boston. Give to your Red Cross.
Beg on the highway: please
take my zucchini, I have a crippled
mother at home with heartburn.

Sneak out before dawn to drop
them in other people's gardens,
in baby buggies at churchdoors.
Shot, smuggling zucchini into
mailboxes, a federal offense.

With a suave reptilian glitter
you bask among your raspy
fronds sudden and huge as
alligators. You give and give
too much, like summer days
limp with heat, thunderstorms
bursting their bags on our heads,
as we salt and freeze and pickle
for the too little to come.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Memory As A Hearing Aid

Memory As a Hearing Aid
by Tony Hoagland 

Somewhere, someone is asking a question,
and I stand squinting at the classroom
with one hand cupped behind my ear,
trying to figure out where that voice is coming from.

I might be already an old man,
attempting to recall the night
his hearing got misplaced,
front-row-center at a battle of the bands,

where a lot of leather-clad, second-rate musicians,
amped up to dinosaur proportions,
test drove their equipment through our ears.
Each time the drummer threw a tantrum,

the guitarist whirled and sprayed us with machine-gun riffs,
as if they wished that they could knock us
quite literally dead.
We called that fun in 1970,

when we weren’t sure our lives were worth surviving.
I’m here to tell you that they were,
and many of us did, despite ourselves,
though the road from there to here

is paved with dead brain cells,
parents shocked to silence,
and squad cars painting the whole neighborhood
the quaking tint and texture of red jelly.

Friends, we should have postmarks on our foreheads
to show where we have been;
we should have pointed ears, or polka-dotted skin
to show what we were thinking

when we hot-rodded over God’s front lawn,
and Death kept blinking.
But here I stand, an average-looking man
staring at a room

where someone blond in braids
with a beautiful belief in answers
is still asking questions.

Through the silence in my dead ear,
I can almost hear the future whisper
to the past: it says that this is not a test
and everybody passes.

Lost in the Hospital

Lost in the Hospital
by Rafael Campo

It’s not that I don’t like the hospital.
Those small bouquets of flowers, pert and brave.
The smell of antiseptic cleansers.
The ill, so wistful in their rooms, so true.
My friend, the one who’s dying, took me out
To where the patients go to smoke, IV’s
And oxygen in tanks attached to them—
A tiny patio for skeletons. We shared
A cigarette, which was delicious but
Too brief. I held his hand; it felt
Like someone’s keys. How beautiful it was,
The sunlight pointing down at us, as if
We were important, full of life, unbound.
I wandered for a moment where his ribs
Had made a space for me, and there, beside
The thundering waterfall of his heart,
I rubbed my eyes and thought, “I’m lost.”

Monday, September 23, 2013

Filling Station

Filling Station 
by Elizabeth Bishop 

Oh, but it is dirty!
—this little filling station,
oil-soaked, oil-permeated
to a disturbing, over-all
black translucency.
Be careful with that match!

Father wears a dirty,
oil-soaked monkey suit
that cuts him under the arms,
and several quick and saucy
and greasy sons assist him
(it’s a family filling station),
all quite thoroughly dirty.

Do they live in the station?
It has a cement porch
behind the pumps, and on it
a set of crushed and grease-
impregnated wickerwork;
on the wicker sofa
a dirty dog, quite comfy.

Some comic books provide
the only note of color—
of certain color. They lie
upon a big dim doily
draping a taboret
(part of the set), beside
a big hirsute begonia.

Why the extraneous plant?
Why the taboret?
Why, oh why, the doily?
(Embroidered in daisy stitch
with marguerites, I think,
and heavy with gray crochet.)

Somebody embroidered the doily.
Somebody waters the plant,
or oils it, maybe. Somebody
arranges the rows of cans
so that they softly say:
to high-strung automobiles.
Somebody loves us all.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Shadow Voice

The Shadow Voice
by Margaret Atwood 

My shadow said to me:
what is the matter

Isn't the moon warm
enough for you
why do you need
the blanket of another body

Whose kiss is moss

Around the picnic tables
The bright pink hands held sandwiches
crumbled by distance. Flies crawl
over the sweet instant

You know what is in these blankets

The trees outside are bending with
children shooting guns. Leave
them alone. They are playing
games of their own.

I give water, I give clean crusts

Aren't there enough words
flowing in your veins
to keep you going.

Sunday, August 18, 2013


by Sylvia Plath

The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here.
Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in.
I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly
As the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands.
I am nobody; I have nothing to do with explosions.
I have given my name and my day-clothes up to the nurses
And my history to the anesthetist and my body to surgeons.

They have propped my head between the pillow and the sheet-cuff
Like an eye between two white lids that will not shut.
Stupid pupil, it has to take everything in.
The nurses pass and pass, they are no trouble,
They pass the way gulls pass inland in their white caps,
Doing things with their hands, one just the same as another,
So it is impossible to tell how many there are.

My body is a pebble to them, they tend it as water
Tends to the pebbles it must run over, smoothing them gently.
They bring me numbness in their bright needles, they bring me sleep.
Now I have lost myself I am sick of baggage——
My patent leather overnight case like a black pillbox,
My husband and child smiling out of the family photo;
Their smiles catch onto my skin, little smiling hooks.

I have let things slip, a thirty-year-old cargo boat
stubbornly hanging on to my name and address.
They have swabbed me clear of my loving associations.
Scared and bare on the green plastic-pillowed trolley
I watched my teaset, my bureaus of linen, my books
Sink out of sight, and the water went over my head.
I am a nun now, I have never been so pure.

I didn’t want any flowers, I only wanted
To lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty.
How free it is, you have no idea how free——
The peacefulness is so big it dazes you,
And it asks nothing, a name tag, a few trinkets.
It is what the dead close on, finally; I imagine them
Shutting their mouths on it, like a Communion tablet.

The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me.
Even through the gift paper I could hear them breathe
Lightly, through their white swaddlings, like an awful baby.
Their redness talks to my wound, it corresponds.
They are subtle : they seem to float, though they weigh me down,
Upsetting me with their sudden tongues and their color,
A dozen red lead sinkers round my neck.

Nobody watched me before, now I am watched.
The tulips turn to me, and the window behind me
Where once a day the light slowly widens and slowly thins,
And I see myself, flat, ridiculous, a cut-paper shadow
Between the eye of the sun and the eyes of the tulips,
And I have no face, I have wanted to efface myself.
The vivid tulips eat my oxygen.

Before they came the air was calm enough,
Coming and going, breath by breath, without any fuss.
Then the tulips filled it up like a loud noise.
Now the air snags and eddies round them the way a river
Snags and eddies round a sunken rust-red engine.
They concentrate my attention, that was happy
Playing and resting without committing itself.

The walls, also, seem to be warming themselves.
The tulips should be behind bars like dangerous animals;
They are opening like the mouth of some great African cat,
And I am aware of my heart: it opens and closes
Its bowl of red blooms out of sheer love of me.
The water I taste is warm and salt, like the sea,
And comes from a country far away as health.


 by Tony Hoagland

When the medication she was taking
caused tiny vessels in her face to break,
leaving faint but permanent blue stitches in her cheeks,
my sister said she knew she would
never be beautiful again.

After all those years
of watching her reflection in the mirror,
sucking in her stomach and standing straight,
she said it was a relief,
being done with beauty,

but I could see her pause inside that moment
as the knowledge spread across her face
with a fine distress, sucking
the peach out of her lips,
making her cute nose seem, for the first time,
a little knobby.

I'm probably the only one in the whole world
who actually remembers the year in high school
she perfected the art
of being a dumb blond,

spending recess on the breezeway by the physics lab,
tossing her hair and laughing that canary trill
that was her specialty,

while some football player named Johnny
with a pained expression in his eyes
wrapped his thick finger over and over again
in the bedspring of one of those pale curls.

Or how she spent the next decade of her life
auditioning a series of tall men
looking for just one with the kind of
attention span she could count on.

Then one day her time of prettiness was done,
and all those other beautiful women
in the magazines and on the streets
just kept on being beautiful
everywhere you looked,

walking in that kind of elegant, disinterested trance
in which you sense they always have one hand
touching the secret place
that keeps their beauty safe,
inhaling and exhaling the perfume of it.

It was spring. Season when the young
buttercups and daisies climb up on the
mulched bodies of their forebears
to wave their flags in the parade.

My sister just stood still for thirty seconds,
amazed about the way that things can go,
then shrugged and tossed her shaggy head
as if she was throwing something out,

something she had carried a long ways
but had no use for anymore,
now that it had no use for her.
That, too, was beautiful

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Self Portrait at 28

Self Portrait at 28
by David Berman

I know it's a bad title
but I'm giving it to myself as a gift
on a day nearly canceled by sunlight
when the entire hill is approaching
the ideal of Virginia
brochured with goldenrod and loblolly
and I think "at least I have not woken up
with a bloody knife in my hand"
by then having absently wandered
one hundred yards from the house
while still seated in this chair
with my eyes closed.

It is a certain hill
the one I imagine when I hear the word "hill"
and if the apocalypse turns out
to be a world-wide nervous breakdown
if our five billion minds collapse at once
well I'd call that a surprise ending
and this hill would still be beautiful
a place I wouldn't mind dying
alone or with you.

I am trying to get at something
and I want to talk very plainly to you
so that we are both comforted by the honesty.
You see there is a window by my desk
I stare out when I am stuck
though the outdoors has rarely inspired me to write
and I don't know why I keep staring at it.

My childhood hasn't made good material either
mostly being a mulch of white minutes
with a few stand out moments,
popping tar bubbles on the driveway in the summer
a certain amount of pride at school
everytime they called it "our sun"
and playing football when the only play
was "go out long" are what stand out now.

If squeezed for more information
I can remember old clock radios
with flipping metal numbers
and an entree called Surf and Turf.

As a way of getting in touch with my origins
every night I set the alarm clock
for the time I was born so that waking up
becomes a historical reenactment and the first thing I do
is take a reading of the day and try to flow with it like
when you're riding a mechanical bull and you strain to learn
the pattern quickly so you don't inadverantly resist it.

II two

I can't remember being born
and no one else can remember it either
even the doctor who I met years later
at a cocktail party.
It's one of the little disappointments
that makes you think about getting away
going to Holly Springs or Coral Gables
and taking a room on the square
with a landlady whose hands are scored
by disinfectant, telling the people you meet
that you are from Alaska, and listen
to what they have to say about Alaska
until you have learned much more about Alaska
than you ever will about Holly Springs or Coral Gables.

Sometimes I am buying a newspaper
in a strange city and think
"I am about to learn what it's like to live here."
Oftentimes there is a news item
about the complaints of homeowners
who live beside the airport
and I realize that I read an article
on this subject nearly once a year
and always receive the same image.

I am in bed late at night
in my house near the airport
listening to the jets fly overhead
a strange wife sleeping beside me.
In my mind, the bedroom is an amalgamation
of various cold medicine commercial sets
(there is always a box of tissue on the nightstand).

I know these recurring news articles are clues,
flaws in the design though I haven't figured out
how to string them together yet,
but I've begun to notice that the same people
are dying over and over again,
for instance Minnie Pearl
who died this year
for the fourth time in four years.

III three

Today is the first day of Lent
and once again I'm not really sure what it is.
How many more years will I let pass
before I take the trouble to ask someone?

It reminds of this morning
when you were getting ready for work.
I was sitting by the space heater
numbly watching you dress
and when you asked why I never wear a robe
I had so many good reasons
I didn't know where to begin.

If you were cool in high school
you didn't ask too many questions.
You could tell who'd been to last night's
big metal concert by the new t-shirts in the hallway.
You didn't have to ask
and that's what cool was:
the ability to deduct
to know without asking.
And the pressure to simulate coolness
means not asking when you don't know,
which is why kids grow ever more stupid.

A yearbook's endpages, filled with promises
to stay in touch, stand as proof of the uselessness
of a teenager's promise. Not like I'm dying
for a letter from the class stoner
ten years on but...

Do you remember the way the girls
would call out "love you!"
conveniently leaving out the "I"
as if they didn't want to commit
to their own declarations.

I agree that the "I" is a pretty heavy concept
and hope you won't get uncomfortable
if I should go into some deeper stuff here.

IV four

There are things I've given up on
like recording funny answering machine messages.
It's part of growing older
and the human race as a group
has matured along the same lines.
It seems our comedy dates the quickest.
If you laugh out loud at Shakespeare's jokes
I hope you won't be insulted
if I say you're trying too hard.
Even sketches from the original Saturday Night Live
seem slow-witted and obvious now.

It's just that our advances are irrepressible.
Nowadays little kids can't even set up lemonade stands.
It makes people too self-conscious about the past,
though try explaining that to a kid.

I'm not saying it should be this way.

All this new technology
will eventually give us new feelings
that will never completely displace the old ones
leaving everyone feeling quite nervous
and split in two.

We will travel to Mars
even as folks on Earth
are still ripping open potato chip
bags with their teeth.

Why? I don't have the time or intelligence
to make all the connections
like my friend Gordon
(this is a true story)
who grew up in Braintree Massachusetts
and had never pictured a brain snagged in a tree
until I brought it up.
He'd never broken the name down to its parts.
By then it was too late.
He had moved to Coral Gables.

V five

The hill out my window is still looking beautiful
suffused in a kind of gold national park light
and it seems to say,
I'm sorry the world could not possibly
use another poem about Orpheus
but I'm available if you're not working
on a self-portrait or anything.

I'm watching my dog have nightmares,
twitching and whining on the office floor
and I try to imagine what beast
has cornered him in the meadow
where his dreams are set.

I'm just letting the day be what it is:
a place for a large number of things
to gather and interact --
not even a place but an occasion
a reality for real things.

Friends warned me not to get too psychedelic
or religious with this piece:
"They won't accept it if it's too psychedelic
or religious," but these are valid topics
and I'm the one with the dog twitching on the floor
possibly dreaming of me
that part of me that would beat a dog
for no good reason
no reason that a dog could see.

I am trying to get at something so simple
that I have to talk plainly
so the words don't disfigure it
and if it turns out that what I say is untrue
then at least let it be harmless
like a leaky boat in the reeds
that is bothering no one.

VI six

I can't trust the accuracy of my own memories,
many of them having blended with sentimental
telephone and margarine commercials
plainly ruined by Madison Avenue
though no one seems to call the advertising world
"Madison Avenue" anymore. Have they moved?
Let's get an update on this.

But first I have some business to take care of.

I walked out to the hill behind our house
which looks positively Alaskan today
and it would be easier to explain this
if I had a picture to show you
but I was with our young dog
and he was running through the tall grass
like running through the tall grass
is all of life together
until a bird calls or he finds a beer can
and that thing fills all the space in his head.

You see,
his mind can only hold one thought at a time
and when he finally hears me call his name
he looks up and cocks his head
and for a single moment
my voice is everything:

Self-portrait at 28.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Siren Song

Siren Song by Margaret Atwood

This is the one song everyone
would like to learn: the song
that is irresistible:

the song that forces men
to leap overboard in squadrons
even though they see beached skulls

the song nobody knows
because anyone who had heard it
is dead, and the others can’t remember.
Shall I tell you the secret
and if I do, will you get me
out of this bird suit?
I don’t enjoy it here
squatting on this island
looking picturesque and mythical
with these two feathery maniacs,
I don’t enjoy singing
this trio, fatal and valuable.

I will tell the secret to you,
to you, only to you.
Come closer. This song

is a cry for help: Help me!
Only you, only you can,
you are unique

at last. Alas
it is a boring song
but it works every time.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

"Do You Have Any Advice for Those of Us Just Starting Out?"

"Do You Have Any Advice for Those of Us Just Starting Out?" 
by Ron Koertge

Give up sitting dutifully at your desk. Leave
your house or apartment. Go out into the world.

It's all right to carry a notebook but a cheap
one is best, with pages the color of weak tea
and on the front a kitten or a space ship.

Avoid any enclosed space where more than
three people are wearing turtlenecks. Beware
any snow-covered chalet with deer tracks
across the muffled tennis courts.

Not surprisingly, libraries are a good place to write.
And the perfect place in a library is near an aisle
where a child a year or two old is playing as his
mother browses the ranks of the dead.

Often he will pull books from the bottom shelf.
The title, the author's name, the brooding photo
on the flap mean nothing. Red book on black, gray
book on brown, he builds a tower. And the higher
it gets, the wider he grins.

You who asked for advice, listen: When the tower
falls, be like that child. Laugh so loud everybody
in the world frowns and says, "Shhhh."

Then start again.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Seattle as Edge, You as Water

Seattle As Edge, You as Water
for Richard Hugo 
by Susan Zwinger

Edges, those paradoxical meshes of boundary and beckoning,
I have always loved edges. Listen to over-sized rain drops
plopping from red cedar. Crave nothing less
than an epic myth by which to know our Seattle home.
Ferry horn, water shore, lapping bone. Nothing less
than the poetry of salmon and Sound will resuscitate us.
Not an armchair treatise but a sphagnum-bog-muck,
algae stink-slick seat of the pants revelation. We come from the cold
abstractions of the East, from the flowery inebriate thoughts to the South
to Seattle, to a tougher, sensual edge. We prefer our beaches
vertical. We prefer our oceans airborne and counterclockwise.
We long to replace mind-numbing words - sound bite, countdown,
boot up, HOV - with more resonant lexicons: wolverine, murrelet,
bog rosemary, boletus, grizzly, sockeye and Thuja placata.

Human history is migration toward a chain of last edges.
At Seattle, we lose that bottle top of escape: this is the final
wild edge on a finite planet. We immigrants saved Seattle
for last because its geography is scraped, punched, exploded, ground
faulted and drenched. Enormous trees and precipitous hills, once
impenetrable boundaries, are cut and skid rowed,
regraded, flooded, built up, burned down, filled in and dredged.

Your Apprenticeship:
Go to Seattle Public Library; pull the huge maps of the bioregion
from the map drawers. Carefully trace all the edges of water,
all the lakes, all the rivers, all the sloughs on shelf paper. Forget
artificial boundaries. Move your pencil slowly, sensuously,
learning that each crook and curve is intimately known
by someone who loves home. Step back. View the waterways
as dendritic veins. Imagine the humans and lumps implied
underneath as those of a muscular lover.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Old Florist

Old Florist 
by Theodore Roethke

That hump of a man bunching chrysanthemums
Or pinching-back asters, or planting azaleas,
Tamping and stamping dirt into posts, --
How he could flick and pick
Rotten leaves or yellowy petals,
Or scoop out a weed close to flourishing roots,
Or make the dust buzz with a light spray,
Or drown a bug in one spit of tobacco juice,
Or fan life into wilted sweet-peas with his hat,
Or stand all night watering roses, his feet blue in rubber boots.

A Latte Nonsense

A Latte Nonsense 
by Colby Chester 

We could have stoically survived the trauma
of coffee failing to transcend decaf or au lait, 
but when its pending monotony threatened to close 
equatorial plantations and leave a familiar 
man with a mule stranded in the mountains on 
an untouched can, a clever penstroke from Ad-ville
transformed the caustic proclivities of espresso into 
Latte! the available alkahest, and saved the day. 

The magic's in the mouthing of the words, 
an expression of language that lifts 
the normal daily drawl to distant lands and
times so far removed from these they tran-
substantiate a moment's single-hued behaviors
into moods of thick romantic heft that tease the ear 
like complex dance positions - latteccino lungo,
americano grande, macchiato breve, and doppio 
ristretto - erotic twists of tongue that conjure 
liquid nights in Venice, a world removed from
curb-side carts where restless queues accumulate 
a range of human types lured in by hissing 
screams of steam. 

A hardhat lumbers up and grumbles, "double latte
skinny," recalls just for that moment something 
foppish from Moliere; a housewife flees her 
kitchen chores for "cappucino breve" and 
dreams of passioned trysting on the Ponte Vecchio;
a stork-legged girl in shredded jeans (tattoos
adorn her shoulder) combs fingers through her hair
and whispers, "mocha almondino," as if 
it were the password to a smoke-swirled cabaret.

Once all we knew was, coffee...black, a bleak
retreat from day-life. But now we're reinvented taste
by adding intrigue to our intake, compounding
words we've never heard into the tongue
of the absurd. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

34 Excuses for Why We Failed At Love

34 Excuses for Why We Failed at Love
by Warsan Shire

10. We covered the smell of loss with jokes.

12. You made the nomad in me build a house and stay.

23. I cut him out at the root, he was my favorite tree, rotting, threatening the foundations of my home.

27. You’re the song I rewind until I know all the words and I feel sick.

30. We emotionally manipulated one another until we thought it was love.

34. I belong deeply to myself.

Note: Listen to this poem. 


by Joan Larkin

She wants a house full of cups and the ghosts
of last century’s lesbians; I want a spotless
apartment, a fast computer. She wants a woodstove,
three cords of ash, an axe; I want
a clean gas flame. She wants a row of jars:
oats, coriander, thick green oil;
I want nothing to store. She wants pomanders,
linens, baby quilts, scrapbooks. She wants Wellesley
reunions. I want gleaming floorboards, the river’s
reflection. She wants shrimp and sweat and salt;
she wants chocolate. I want a raku bowl,
steam rising from rice. She wants goats,
chickens, children. Feeding and weeping. I want
wind from the river freshening cleared rooms.
She wants birthdays, theaters, flags, peonies.
I want words like lasers. She wants a mother’s
tenderness. Touch ancient as the river.
I want a woman’s wit swift as a fox.
She’s in her city, meeting
her deadline; I’m in my mill village out late
with the dog, listening to the pinging wind bells, thinking
of the twelve years of wanting, apart and together.
We’ve kissed all weekend; we want
to drive the hundred miles and try it again.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Imaginary Paintings

Imaginary Paintings
by Lisel Mueller

A strip of horizon and a figure,
seen from the back, forever approaching.

Something sudden, a windfall,
a meteor shower. No—
a flowering tree releasing
all its blossoms at once,
and the one standing beneath it
unexpectedly robed in bloom,
transformed into a stranger
to beautiful to touch.

White on white or black on black.
No ground, no figure. An immense canvas,
which I will never finish.

I would not paint love.

A black cat jumping up three feet
to reach a three-inch shelf.

Smooth, and deceptively small
so that it can be swallowed
like something we take for a cold.
An elongated capsule,
an elegant cylinder,
sweet and glossy,
that pleases the tongue
and goes down easy,
never mind
the poison inside.

An old-fashioned painting, a genre piece.
People in bright and dark clothing.
A radiant bride in white
standing above a waterfall,
watching the water rush
away, away, away.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


by Aurora Levins Morales


when it happened the right side of my body disappeared from the map
left only tangled lines. Everything dragged down towards earth
except for my pinkie that curled up and out like a twig.

when it happened my foot was pierced with fire, but cold and swollen
as waterlogged wood. my skin couldn’t bear the weight of my sheets.
touch made me scream and weep.

when it happened my hand was scalded, wracked with spasms,
a dense slab of pain. Five fingers set adrift from my brain
couldn’t cup, grip, press, pinch.

therapy began with holding my right foot in my left hand and squeezing
so it would know where it was. so the crazy screaming nerves would
calm down and remember to be foot.

Therapy was holding my runaway fingers together
reuniting the pinkie with the ring finger, teaching them to be hand.

Therapy was stepping on needles, on burning asphalt, on
glaciers. Ten steps. Fifteen. Try again.

start rubbing the skin with silk, they said,
with wool
with terry cloth
put sandpaper on the toilet seat.
apply texture to the hypersensitive and the dulled.
the arm, the hand, the leg, the foot, the face

no one asked, no one ever asked
about inner skin
about silk and touch and stiff

uno dos tres cuatro cinco
all summer at the gym in Havana
all day every day step, step, step
up down open close
my hand clenching, spreading, uncurling
my foot stepping, bending, arching
on the earth
but no one asked, no one ever asked
do you feel this?

the injured brain forgets the places it’s lost connection with
blank spaces in the atlas, unexplored oceans
find your missing continents, they said
grasp with your hand, put weight on your foot, touch your face
use it or lose it
but no one asked
do you feel this?
or this?
no one said,

pleasure is a lost continent
touch yourself with silk
how is your clitoris today?
use it or lose it.
stroke, stroke, stroke

No one helps me.
I explore the dry places and the wetlands.
Struggle to clench and release muscles that forgot how.
Rub dry sticks trying to raise a spark.

open, close, open, close
tracing the tips of nerves that have been sleeping
hoping they will wake up and remember to be delicious

The hand that dives in is still thick as a novacained cheek.
It cramps on the vibrator.
How do I tell which is numb,
the slick, ridged wall or the finger.
clench and release, clench and release

breath takes me down
breath is a bridge across numbness
closing gaps in the circuits
streaming past burnt neurons
chi dancing naked in the dead places
becomes my instructor
exercise imagination she murmurs,
wet tongue, long finger, velvet cock

breathe them into bound muscle
conjure sensation out of thin air
the imprint of memory
begins restoring the coastline of pleasure
mirages shimmer in the air, forgotten peaks
floating above flesh

breathe them in
breathe them out
become what I have lost
until nothing is missing







by Michelle Tea

i lost the poem
i woke up with.
it was dangerous
something beautiful
about victory
and danger
i woke up with it
spilling into the white
of your room the fat brown towers
of boxes
packed tight
with your whole

the beautiful poem
slipped away
and there you were
your magnificent

inside the night
i bit you.
am i compelled
to act like such a shit
around you, i mean
i like you
a lot.
you kick my ass
with your eyes,
every glance,
i'm struck
yet i can't
chewing your arm
like the excitable puppy
i become
in your presence.

i must confess
i live
for this exquisite
rushing like coffee
through all my body's
the luxury
of your hands
at my throat
before sleep.

lucky me,
i get to fall
to sleep
the sun. there she is,
sleeping darkly
like the cat
on the chair,
like she commands
in the light.

this girl
is a meal
am i making
that clear
a crescendo
of sleep
keeping me awake
and biting.

Alley Violinist

Alley Violinist 
by Robert Lax

If you were an alley violinist

and they threw you money
from three windows

and the first note contained
a nickel and said:
when you play, we dance and
sing, signed
a very poor family

and the second one contained
a dime and said:
I like your playing very much,
a sick old lady

and the last one contained
a dollar and said:
beat it.

would you:
stand there and play?

beat it?

walk away playing your fiddle?

The Last Words of My English Grandmother

The Last Words of My English Grandmother 
by William Carlos Williams

There were some dirty plates
and a glass of milk
beside her on a small table
near the rank, disheveled bed -

Wrinkled and nearly blind
she lay and snored
rousing with anger in her tones
to cry for food,

Gimme something to eat -
they're starving me -
I'm all right I won't go
to the hospital. No, no, no

Give me something to eat
Let me take you
to the hospital, I said
and after you are well

you can do as you please.
She smiled. Yes
you do what you please first
then I can do what I please -

Oh, oh, oh! she cried
as the ambulance men lifted
her to the stretcher -
Is this what you call

making me comfortable?
By now her mind was clear -
Oh you think you're smart
you young people,

she said, but I'll tell you
you don't know anything.
Then we started.
On the way

we passed a long row
of elms. She looked at them
awhile out of
the ambulance window and said,

What are all those
fuzzy-looking things out there?
Trees? Well I'm tired
of them and rolled her head away.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

An Old Story

An Old Story
by Richard Hoffman 

A few days after my mother died
the furnace went out, and my father,
who had been sitting in his chair
across from hers since the funeral,

his unshaven chin on his chest,
heaved himself up and went down
the cold gray cellar stairs to see if
he could relight the pilot himself

or would have to call for help.
I know what it must have been like
because I remember him other times
on his back down there, cursing

match after match, god damning
each for burning his fingers, as he
reached through the tiny metal door
as many times as it took. This time

it lit, caught, and roared back to life.
When my father sat up he faced
the washer, the dryer, the empty
laundry basket, the ironing board,

and my mother’s radio above the sink,
her absence so vivid that climbing
the stairs he thought he heard her
behind him, and he turned around.

Foreign Song

Foreign Song
by Katie Ford

To bomb them,
we mustn’t have heard their music
or known their waterless night watch,
we mustn’t have seen how already
the desert was under constant death bells
ringing over sleeping cribs and dry wells.
We couldn’t have wanted
this eavesdropping
of names we’ve never pronounced
praying themselves towards death.
I try to believe in us—
we must not
have heard
their music.

Smoke in Our Hair

Smoke in Our Hair
by Ofelia Zepeda 

The scent of burning wood holds
the strongest memory.
Mesquite, cedar, piñon, juniper,
all are distinct.
Mesquite is dry desert air and mild winter.
Cedar and piñon are colder places.
Winter air in our hair is pulled away,
and scent of smoke settles in its place.
We walk around the rest of the day
with the aroma resting on our shoulders.
The sweet smell holds the strongest memory.
We stand around the fire.
The sound of the crackle of wood and spark
is ephemeral.
Smoke, like memories, permeates our hair,
our clothing, our layers of skin.
The smoke travels deep
to the seat of memory.
We walk away from the fire;
no matter how far we walk,
we carry this scent with us.
New York City, France, Germany—
we catch the scent of burning wood;
we are brought home.


By Mindy Nettifee

If a man is only as good as his word,
then I want to marry a man with a vocabulary like yours.

The way you say dicey and delectable and octogenarian
in the same sentence— that really turns me on.
The way you describe the oranges in your backyard
using anarchistic and intimate in the same breath.

I would follow the legato and staccato of your tongue
wrapping around your diction
until listening become more like dreaming
and dreaming became more like kissing you.

I want to jump off the cliff of your voice
into the suicide of your stream of consciousness.
I want to visit the place in your heart where the wrong words die.
I want to map it out with a dictionary and points
of brilliant light until it looks more like a star chart
than a strategy for communication.
I want to see where your words are born.
I want to find a pattern in the astrology.

I want to memorize the scripts of your seductions.
I want to live in the long-winded epics of your disappointments,
in the haiku of your epiphanies.
I want to know all the names you’ve given your desires.
I want to find my name among them,

‘cause there is nothing more wrecking sexy than the right word.
I want to thank whoever told you
there was no such thing as a synonym.
I want to throw a party for the heartbreak
that turned you into a poet.

And if it is true that a man is only as good as his word
then, sweet jesus, let me be there
the first time you are speechless,
and all your explosive wisdom becomes
a burning ball of sun in your throat,
and all you can bring yourself to utter is, oh god, oh god.

Their Sex Life

Their Sex Life
By A. R. Ammons

One failure on
Top of another.

I Don't Really Have A Plan A

I Don’t Really Have a Plan A
by Kat Lewin

The morning after, I drive to the drugstore still sweaty and ask for the box of emergency babykiller—generic? she asks; whatever’s cheap—then swallow the first dose with a can of flat ginger ale from beside the bed. The box is pink, in case you forgot it is for a woman. At the top of my trash can, a condom shredded like a sick ’80s guitar solo.

Twelve hours until the next dose.

I go online to masturbate to pictures nobody wants me to masturbate to. The Wikipedia picture for Guy de Maupassant. An infomercial for a robotic ping-pong server. I sign onto the Miller Family Blog and search for photos of Mama Miller wading into the shallow end at baby’s first barbecue, use my palm to block out the happy-drool infant, the corner of my pinky to blot away the maternal lovelight in Mama’s eye. Then I need two hands and I just squint.

Eight hours until the second dose.

Yesterday, our third date, driving across the busted-up city for pawnshops, looking for meth-money trinkets to buy at one store and sell to another. It is a mitzvah to set objects free, even if it is not very free or for very long. Later, pink and gold clouds painted across the sky, making our way, not holding hands, to a tree he knows that’s infested with hundreds of tiny, tiny bats. Watching their mass nightly exodus: they fluttered dark and deranged against that billion-dollar sunset, divebombed our faces when it got too dark.

My old middle school’s website, looking up forgotten science teachers, searching for signs of lingering attraction. The first A-bomb tests in the South Pacific created fireballs three miles wide. It is hard to masturbate when I am distracted. I am always distracted.

Five and a half hours.

Bat-gazing, in this ghost-town city. Walking back to the car, still not touching.

Sometimes when I look at pictures of strangers I pretend everybody in the shot is already dead. It’s not always to masturbate. Sometimes I just like to feel sad.

I paid cash for the pills—pills and a pack of cigarettes and a box of condoms—with a hundred-dollar bill, and I can tell anybody else that, but he’ll offer me money and I hate when people pay for half of anything. It didn’t come up, when he was peeling off the ribbons of exploded latex, rolling that thick ring down the base and flipping it into the trash. It’s nice to know a man who isn’t Catholic.

Three hours.

All day I have felt productive, sitting here still unshowered, not making a baby, and the thing about masturbating to pictures nobody wants you to masturbate to is that there are so many of them. I am a sexual terrorist. It’s not so different from being a normal terrorist, really, except my stomach is bent on itself and my fingers are sore and nobody else is scared at all.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

I Don't Buy It

I Don’t Buy It
by Wendy Videlock

I don’t buy it, says

the scientist.

Replies the frail

and faithful heart,

it’s not for sale.