Heirloom

A trembling between the windows in the kitchen we called ours, in which
we placed the plates carefully. We said the plates could stay in our house.

We spoke with our tongues, which touched at night. The only matter
was what had we had with own eyes seen. Seen: peppers at market,

thin scar usually hidden by clothing, downstairs neighbor moving in.
Seen: loving another person so much that you also love every single

other thing you touch. The dishes shook like leaves, floated downriver.
Days too. Washing clothes in the kitchen. Underwear in the laundry

like a bell in the head. The bed which creaked like a sleigh in snow, and
the small piano, and the quiet dying of blood, and the unbroken plates.

Tomato after green tomato from the farm up the street bloomed red
and did beat in time, and every day was the first and also the last, and.

In my hometown my friends were all wearing tuxedos to each other’s
weddings, licking icing from roses, a sweetness which sang the song

of their remembered bodies aging under all that formal cloth.
I don’t mean to sound perverse. It was beautiful if unnecessary.

- Lauren Clark

Swell

Mid-March, on the daily a.m. drop-off
through a bunch of affluent side streets
between school and here

a refrigerated dairy produce truck
keeps catching almond and dogwood branches,
so much that blossoms blizzard

the windscreen and moonroof
and I have to switch the wipers
to intermittent in its slipstream.

All I mean to say is that it was lovely,
that not every given is bleak or wrong
and some even are as gorgeous as they are elementary.

The kids come home on different buses
the same shade of egg yolk.
We call my mother from the shore for Easter.

That truck and blossoms story gets longer,
hokier, with each retelling. I’m not bothered.
April’s bright stretches, the mailman says, are swell.

Our local ‘Y’ widens its opening hours a smidgen.
The clay courts opposite pock and shuffle.
I learn to swim.

- Conor O’Callaghan

Admonitions to a Special Person

Watch out for power
for its avalanche can bury you,
snow, snow, snow, smothering your mountain.

Watch out for hate,
it can open its mouth and you’ll fling yourself out
to eat off your leg, an instant leper. 

Watch out for friends,
because when you betray them,
as you will,
they will bury their heads in the toilet
and flush themselves away.

Watch out for intellect,
because it knows so much it knows nothing
and leaves you hanging upside down,
mouthing knowledge as your heart
falls out of your mouth.

Watch out for games, the actor’s part,
the speech planned, known, given,
for it will give you away
and you will stand like a naked little boy,
pissing on your own child-bed.

Watch out for love,
(unless it is true,
and every part of you says yes including the toes,)
it will wrap you up like a mummy,
and your scream won’t be heard
and none of your running will run.

Love? Be it man. Be it woman.
It must be a wave you want to glide in on,
give your body to it, give your laugh to it,
give, when the gravelly sand takes you,
your tears to the land. To love another is something
like prayer and can’t be planned, you just fall
into its arms because your belief undoes your disbelief.

Special person,
if I were you I’d pay no attention
to admonitions from me,
made somewhat out of your words
and somewhat out of mine.
A collaboration.

I do not believe a word I have said,
except some, except I think of you like a young tree
with pasted on leaves and know you’ll root
and the real green thing will come.

Let go. Let go.
O special person,
possible leaves,
this typewriter likes you on the way to them,
but wants to break crystal glasses
in celebration,
for you,
when the dark crust is thrown off
and you float all around
like a happened balloon.

March 24, 1974

-
Anne Sexton

Jet

Sometimes I wish I were still out
on the back porch, drinking jet fuel
with the boys, getting louder and louder
as the empty cans drop out of our paws
like booster rockets falling back to Earth

and we soar up into the summer stars.
Summer. The big sky river rushes overhead,
bearing asteroids and mist, blind fish
and old space suits with skeletons inside.

On Earth, men celebrate their hairiness,
and it is good, a way of letting life
out of the box, uncapping the bottle
to let the effervescence gush
through the narrow, usually constricted neck.

And now the crickets plug in their appliances
in unison, and then the fireflies flash
dots and dashes in the grass, like punctuation
for the labyrinthine, untrue tales of sex
someone is telling in the dark, though

no one really hears. We gaze into the night
as if remembering the bright unbroken planet
we once came from, to which we will never
be permitted to return.
We are amazed how hurt we are.
We would give anything for what we have.

- Tony Hoagland

Icarus Breathing

Indestructible seabirds, black and white, leading and following;

semivisible mist, undulating, worming about the head;

rain starring the sea, tearing all over me;

our little boat, as in a Hosukai print, nudging closer

to Icarus (a humpback whale, not a foolish dead boy)

heaving against rough water; a voluminous inward grinding--

like a self breathing, but not a self--revivifying,

ozygenating the blood, making the blowhole move,

like a mouth silent against the decrees of fate: joy, grief,

desperation, triump. Only God can obstruct them.

A big wave makes my feet slither. I feel like a baby,

bodiless and strange: a man is nothing if he is not changing.

Father, is that you breathing? Forgiveness is anathema to me.

I apologize. Knock me to the floor. Take me with you.

- Henri Cole

"Picture the east Aegean sea by night;

And in an open bay before that sea
Upwards of 30,000 men
Asleep like spoons among their fatal ships.
Now look along the moonlit beach, and note
A naked man, face wet with tears,
Run with what seems to break the speed of light
Across the dry, then damp, then sand invisible
Beneath inch-high waves that slide
Over each other’s luminescent panes;
Then kneel among those panes, beggar his arms, and pray:

‘Out of humiliation, Source, I cry,
Source, hear my voice, and with your presence
Bless my supplication.’

The sea as quiet as light.
His voice flows on:



- Christopher Logue

"Let not your heart be troubled:

ye believe in God, believe also in me.

In my father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there may ye be also.

And whither I go ye know. And the way ye know.”

- John 14: 1-4

Elegy for a Boyhood Lover Slain in Battle

After Gore Vidal’s Palimpsest

The branches shake, Jimmy, it rains in that trance;
Tuxedo in the colonnades asks after your breakfast.
A fire rises and falls in the house of Cadmus,
light on your bare neck, your voice
almost washed out in memory's reel.

Rapt in that flood I heard the night away
through Ovid, through mauve firs thrashing.
Your voice like a bellrope dangles in sterile heat
amid these unspooled metaphors. Today
the dry sun annuls the slide into la terra trema, but
through sweet parallax I watch you, sixteen, climb
like Phaethon the too-large chariot, the pitcher's
mound in Griffiths Stadium. A fire
in the house of Cadmus
, a fire, and hard rain
in that trance. Tuxedo in the scullery,
the nails of your thick fingers flash
in the night-light. Still as a deer I smell
you through the monogrammed cloth.
The milk on your breath tarries the years.

"Verbose and hard" the Times once wrote,
and even now I stiffen, but strangely,
as a battered word reforms, anagrammatic.
A fire rises and falls, another trance
but no rain any more, no mansion.
Only the newsprint-brittle bacchanals of the sea.
The sun depilates boughs and dries the cliffside
veins of sediment and clay. Your Hesperidian form
gone, still I imagine you poised on a cot
dark-faced over your mother's Leaves of Grass:
Cushion me soft, rock me in billowy drowse, dash me
with amorous wet, I can repay you, 
awake,
not noticing the roan morning or the locust calls
on Iwo Jima.

- Alex Halberstadt

"Lovers seek for privacy. Friends find this solitude about them,

this barrier between them and the herd, whether they want it or not. They would be glad to reduce it. The first two would be glad to find a third.

In our own time Friendship arises in the same way. For us of course the shared activity and therefore the companionship on which Friendship supervenes will not often be a bodily one like hunting or fighting. It may be a common religion, common studies, a common profession, even a common recreation. All who share it will be our companions; but one or two or three who share something more will be our Friends. In this kind of love, as Emerson said, Do you love me? means Do you see the same truth? - Or at least, "Do you care about the same truth?" The man who agrees with us that some question, little regarded by others, is of great importance, can be our Friend. He need not agree with us about the answer.

Notice that Friendship thus repeats an a more individual and less socially necessary level the character of the Companionship which was its matrix. The Companionship was between people who were doing something together - hunting, studying, painting or what you will. The Friends will still be doing something together, but something more inward, less widely shared and less easily defined; still hunters, but of some immaterial quarry; still collaborating, but in some work the world does not, or not yet, take account of; still travelling companions, but on a different kind of journey. Hence we picture lovers face to face but Friends side by side; their eyes look ahead.”

- C.S. Lewis, from ‘The Four Loves”

"Across the beach, the man with one leg had been joined by his young girlfriend,

a pale, blond woman with the usual number of limbs. She was helping him down to the water. Their movement, jerky and storklike, drew attention to itself, but I was looking because of something else. It was how . . . sexual they were together. I don’t know how else to put it, or what that means, exactly, except that they were playful with each other, as adults rarely are. Theirs was a performance of a sort. They had established clarity on the point, and such clarity can be important. It is, for instance, important to me at times, when I find myself at dinner with my mother, to announce loudly to the waiter, “This is my mother,” or an equivalent expression that makes our relationship unambiguous.

Celeste was still on her phone, so I walked to the water by myself. My thoughts had turned to the couple’s sex life. What was under the man’s bathing suit, and how had the woman responded when she first saw him naked—with aversion, or arousal, or something more mixed and subtle, a curiosity and an arousal that were inseparable from or somehow part of the shock or fear that we feel in the presence of difference? It was, of course, possible that the absence of his leg did not enter into it, and that, as we are taught to believe and no one, I think, believes fully, the matter of love transcends all superficial considerations. But who is to say what is superficial and what isn’t? No, more likely, I thought, entering the water and feeling the warm salt liquid envelop me, cooling nothing but seeming to focus the sun’s rays more penetratingly on my skin and eyes and lips, more likely the woman enjoyed the idea of herself as someone who chooses an unusual partner; or—for that was only one possibility—she understood that we are all incomplete versions of an unafraid self trying to be born, and that our apparent wholeness only blinds us to this more substantial insufficiency. If Celeste had been there with me, I would have remarked that this couple had taken up arms in the fight against death—not because an incomplete body represents death, but because normalcy represents death. Because every decision that conforms to expectations, that raises no eyebrows, prompts no outrage or whispering or gossip, that merely reprises the ambered templates forged as prisons by those who have come before—every action taken under this regime of fear is the prefatory enactment of death.

And Celeste would have said, “I see we’re back on your favorite subject.”

And I would have said, “I want to talk about death. And other big things, like life and the soul and tax policy. I want to tromp around in boots in the china shop, where you’ve laid crystal figurines on the ground and dressed the halls in lace that someone went blind to stitch.”

“You’ve made your position clear.”

“My position isn’t clear to me! ” I’d shout. “My position isn’t clear, because my position depends on you.”

“Then talk to me. And don’t speak for me in imaginary dialogues in your head.”

“But you’re not here,” I said, and watched her tumble into the blackness of my mind, spinning like a falling figure in an old movie.

There I go, speaking for everyone when I’m alone, naming all the animals and plants as though my words could turn them into something else.”

- from Greg Jackson’s story, “Poetry,” from The New Yorker: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/04/29/poetry

The Anactoria Poem

Some say thronging cavalry, some say foot soldiers, 
others call a fleet the most beautiful of 
sights the dark earth offers, but I say it's what-
            ever you love best.

And it's easy to make this understood by 
everyone, for she who surpassed all human 
kind in beauty, Helen, abandoning her
            husband—that best of

men—went sailing off to the shores of Troy and 
never spent a thought on her child or loving 
parents: when the goddess seduced her wits and
            left her to wander,

she forgot them all, she could not remember 
anything but longing, and lightly straying 
aside, lost her way. But that reminds me
            now: Anactória,

she's not here, and I'd rather see her lovely 
step, her sparkling glance and her face than gaze on
all the troops in Lydia in their chariots and
            glittering armor.

   - Sappho 

[we are]

we are
prayer in the long boat

                                               a rhizomatic scream
                                               surrounded by the dark dagger
                                                                        of the ocean

                         scripture
                         in its entirety
                         is anticipation of the lilt
                                                   and yet

there is no word
for the rhythm
             we endure
             across this dirtless moment

                                                    antibird, we sing like birds
                                                    textured and untrained

             rugged the love
             that claps
in the chasm of our black palms

- Quenton Baker

The Boy

My older brother is walking down the sidewalk into the suburban
    summer night:
white T-shirt, blue jeans— to the field at the end of the street.

Hangers Hideout the boys called it, an undeveloped plot, a pit
    overgrown
with weeds, some old furniture thrown down there,

and some metal hangers clinking in the trees like wind chimes.
He’s running away from home because our father wants to cut his hair.

And in two more days our father will convince me to go to him— you know
where he is— and talk to him: No reprisals. He promised. A small parade
    of kids

in feet pajamas will accompany me, their voices like the first peepers
    in spring.
And my brother will walk ahead of us home, and my father

will shave his head bald, and my brother will not speak to anyone the next
month, not a word, not pass the milk, nothing.

What happened in our house taught my brothers how to leave, how to walk
down a sidewalk without looking back.

I was the girl. What happened taught me to follow him, whoever he was,
calling and calling his name.

- Marie Howe

The Girl

So close to the end of my childbearing life
without children

—if I could remember a day when I was utterly a girl
and not yet a woman—

but I don't think where was a day like that for me.

When I look at the girl I was, dripping in her bathing suit,
or riding her bike, pumping hard down the newly paved street,

she wears a furtive look—
and even if I could go back in time to her as me, the age I am now

she would never come into my arms
without believing that I wanted something.

- Marie Howe

Dragons

We gathered in a field southwest of town,
several hundred hauling coolers
and folding chairs along a gravel road
dry in August, two ruts of soft dust
that soaked into our clothes
and rose in plumes behind us.

By noon we could discern their massive coils
emerging from a bale of cloud,
scales scattering crescent dapples
through walnut fronds,
the light polarized, each leaf tip in focus.

As their bodies blotted out the sun,
the forest faded to silverpoint.
A current of cool air
extended from the bottomlands
an intimation of October,
and the bowl of sky deepened
its celestial archaeology.

Their tails, like banners of a vast army,
swept past Orion and his retinue
to sighs and scattered applause,
the faint wail of a child crying.
In half an hour they had passed on
in search of deep waters.

Before our company dispersed,
dust whirling in the wind,
we planned to meet again in seven years
for the next known migration.
Sunlight flashed on windshields

and caught along the riverbank
a cloudy, keeled scale
about the size of a dinner plate,
cool as blanc de Chine
in the heat of the afternoon.

- Devin Johnston

[marry at a hotel, annul ’em]

marry at a hotel, annul ’em
nary hep male rose sullen
let alley roam, yell melon
dull normal fellow hammers omelette

divine sunrises
Osiris’s irises
his splendid mistress
is his sis Isis

creole cocoa loca
crayon gumbo boca
crayfish crayola
jumbo mocha-cola

warp maid fresh
fetish coquettish
a voyeur leers
at X-rated reels

- Harryette Mullen

Father

In paradise I poised my foot above the boat and said:
Who prayed for me?
But only the dip of an oar
In water sounded; slowly fog from some cold shore
Circled in wreaths around my head.

But who is waiting?
And the wind began,
Transfiguring my face from nothingness
To tiny weeping eyes. And when my voice
Grew real, there was a place
Far, far below the earth. There was a tiny man—

It was my father wandering round the waters at the wharf.
Irritably he circled and he called
Out to the marine currents up and down,
But heard only a cold unmeaning cough,
And saw the oarsmen in the mist enshawled.

He drew me from the boat. I was asleep.
And we went home together.

- James Wright