Joe Louis's Fist

1.

After the sun rose into rust between gravel and horizon,
after the scent of you oxidized the steel of my car going
into the lidocaine of the morning air as the highway slid

into northeast Detroit past Chill & Mingle,
I did a double-take and took a wrong turn at Rim Repair.
(Long ago my father said I should see the fist).

No one spoke Swahili on 12th Street, still rubble
after the blind pigs folded up.
It was a cliché of the image of itself but it was, it was

like nothing, the vacant burned-out bungalows, car parts, metal scraps
arson jobs, abandoned homes, barbed wire playgrounds,
shacks pummeled along Six Mile Road—derelict since ’67.

2.

My father said when Louis won, the radio static was a wave
of sound that stayed all night like the riots blocks away in Harlem,
as the scent of lilac and gin wafted down Broadway to his window

across from the Columbia gates where the sounds of
Fletcher Henderson and Dizzy buzzed the air,
where the mock Nazi salutes were shadows over the

granite lions and snake-dancing, and car horns
banged the tar and busted windshields,
even coffee shops south of 116th were looted.

3.

It came back in fragments—through the gauze
of the summer of love, through Lucy in the Sky
and other amnesias; streets of burnt-out buildings,

paratroopers bivouacked in high schools with gas and bayonets.
By 6 a.m. July 23 national guards were walking
in the rain of black cinder and pillars of smoke—

a black body hanging from a fence of an auto part yard,
whisky-faced boys shooting through the fire
as torn bags of loot trailed the streets.

Prostitutes used pool cues to defend themselves.
Booze and cartridge smoke ate their skin.
One trooper said it looked like Berlin in ’45.

4.

Samson, David, and Elijah in one left hook
my father said, (6/22/38) upbraided Neville Chamberlain
liberated Austria and Sudetenland

knocked the lights out in Berlin—
sent Polish Jews into the boulevards
for one night of phantasmal liberation.

Because Hitler banned jazz, because Black Moses led
crowds and crowds to the marvelous, inscrutable, overwhelming
balked dreams of revenge, millions seeped out of doorways, alleys, tenements—

dreaming of the diamond pots, of Chrysler heaven,
the golden girls of Hollywood and Shirley Temple
who rubbed some salt into his hands for luck.

Untermensch from Alabama—
sucker for the right hand—the other side of Hailee Salisee
black men howled to him from their electric chairs.

5.

When I drove past Berry Gordy Jr. Boulevard
and the Hitsville USA sign on the studio-house,
the lights were out and I could only

imagine the snake pit where Smokey Robinson
spun into vinyl, where “Heat Wave”
came as sweet blackmail in the beach air of ’64

where the Funkbrothers and Martha Reeves
took the mini opera and dumped it on its head.

By the time I hit Jefferson and Woodward
the sun was glaring on the high windows.
and then it hit me—spinning the light—

horizontal two-foot arm smashing the blue
through the empty pyramid holding it up
in the glare of skyscraper glass: molten

bronze-hand, hypotenuse of history,
displaced knuckles—

the smooth-casting over the gouged-out wounds—
the naked, beloved, half-known forms.

- Peter Balakian

 

Fog

Hide what is far from my eyes,
pale fog, impalpable gray
vapor climbing the light
                    of the coming day,
after the storm-streaked night,                    
the rockfall skies…

Hide what has gone, and what goes,
hide what lies beyond me…
Let me see only that hedge                    
at my boundary,
and this wall, by whose crumbling edge
                    valerian grows.

Hide from my eyes what is dead:
the world is drunk on tears…
Show my two peach trees in bloom,
                    my two pears,
that spread their sugared balm
                    on my black bread.

Hide from my eyes lost things
whose need for my love is a goad...
Let me see only the white
                    of the stone road –
I too will ride it some night
                    as a tired bell rings.

Hide the far things – hide
them beyond the sweep of my heart...
Show only that cypress tree,
                    standing apart,
and here, lying sleepily,
                    this dog at my side.

- Giovanni Pascoli, trans. from Italian by Geoffrey Brock

Without Music

Only the car radio
driving from the drugstore to the restaurant to his apartment:

rock and roll, oldies but goodies,
and sometimes, softly, piano music

rising from the piano teacher's apartment on the first floor.

Most of it happened without music,
the clink of a spoon from the kitchen,

someone talking.  Silence.
Somebody sleeping.  Someone watching somebody sleep.

- Marie Howe

How Much

A boy drowns in a lake. Another opens
his head against a steering wheel. Another
goes downtown. Into a boardroom. Into
leveraged buyouts. Into Italian shoes.
Into spearheading something. Hi, you’ve reached 
Victoria Chang. I’m not at my desk right now.  
Please leave a message at the beep. 
Never mind 
the kickbacks, passing the sound barrier in
the Concorde, its needle-nosed body. How much 
mahogany we all had. Cheese stabbed with 
sticks our teeth tugged on. How many drivers 
in black cars we said Happy Valentine’s Day to.

                        *

Each morning, I put on those shoes, legs, 
nylons, sex, black briefs with texts. Each
dusk, there were martinis, drinks that said
Cocktail! No choice. Of course, starters, soup 
& salad, main meal, dessert, coffee. Always 
in that order. Business models. Pigeons on 
ledges I watched. Dimmed rooms with white 
screens, a man with a pointer. No one stops 
him. Someone make him stop. My watch gets 
tired from looking up at me. The next table is 
once again pioneering something. I can shake 
a hundred hands in an hour. Watch me.

                        *
Thirteen dollars a share. The man on the phone line 
has a rope in his throat. The closing price is 
rouged. We can believe in God again. The banks 
are full. The streets are hungover. The man on 
my left is rich. The man on my right is a month 
from dead. The Champagne ditches its bottle.  
The London air free-falls in the hotel room.  
There are plates of carved fruit. New York is 
cheering through the phone. Heaven must
be this way. Tomorrow, Germany. Then Paris.  
Hello. Goodbye. Where’s the bathroom? I don’t 
understand. I am lost. How much?

                        *
A man carrying a tray of sandwiches.  
A woman on a cell phone. The doorman 
on California Street. The cable-car driver.  
No one knows how beautiful the check 
looks in my wallet. $94 million. Tomorrow, 
$106 million. From: IV Drip. To: Bob 
Dahl. From: Ivy hiccupping up a wall.  
To: John Hedge. Everyone is drunk today.  
Everyone is preparing for sex today. Little 
turquoise boxes with white ribbon are hand-
delivered around town today. The smell of 
beef is powerful. The cemeteries are still full.

                        *
Tired of the stitched ball, line of breeze.  
Tired of the corporate seats. The Samsung.  
The Solectron. The Synopsys. The Pitch. 
Positioning. Presentations. Tired of summer 
that can’t stop its inverting. Of the cartoon ball 
under the cartoon hats that keep moving.  
One, two, three, the crowd shouts. Someday 
the big screen will dangle in rust. The headless 
field will become untethered. Someday 
the rain will withdraw from the sleeping dog.  
Somewhere in a kitchen, a mother will watch 
the last piece of beef fall off a bone.

- Victoria Chang

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

- Wallace Stevens

Like Sailboats on TV

Across from the charred white bar and grill, in the place where the
Irish still bury their dead, I stood next to your grave. Looking at it
then, it didn’t seem so final.

There was a light that fell across the marker the amber color of an
empty pill bottle.


And the distance was false.

You were gone but here, like the picture you took of sailboats on
TV. Like the handwriting of a letter you wrote in 1961.

As the light faded, my vision narrowed, and I saw the grave had
grown four legs and a long, prehensile tail.

I watched as it crawled away, a green, stone-headed creature, in a
halo of blue whatever.

- Christopher Kennedy, from “Clues From the Animal Kingdom”

The First Time They Saw the Whole Earth

My mother was washing dishes;
a turquoise pendant

dangled at her sternum
as she looked out onto the patio,

the bees cross-pollinating
her Mortgage Lifters,

her Big Boys, her Fourth
of Julys. My father came home

on the late bus, walked through
the dandelions with his

brown leather shoes
and fished the newspaper

from the hydrangea.
My sister chalked

a circle on the driveway
and stepped inside.

The next day, my mother
rode the gondola up the mountain

—she wanted to really
see the moon—

and my father discovered
country music, that he had

a voice for those sad, celestial notes.
And my sister played croquet

by her own rules, sent
balls with coloured stripes

plock plocking all over the yard.

- Clear Roberts

[You who never arrived]

You who never arrived
in my arms, Beloved, who were lost
from the start,
I don't even know what songs
would please you. I have given up trying
to recognize you in the surging wave of the next
moment. All the immense
images in me—the far-off, deeply-felt landscape,
cities, towers, and bridges, and un-
suspected turns in the path,
and those powerful lands that were once
pulsing with the life of the gods—
all rise within me to mean
you, who forever elude me.

You, Beloved, who are all
the gardens I have ever gazed at,
longing. An open window
in a country house—, and you almost
stepped out, pensive, to meet me. Streets that I chanced upon,—
you had just walked down them and vanished.
And sometimes, in a shop, the mirrors
were still dizzy with your presence and, startled, gave back
my too-sudden image. Who knows? perhaps the same
bird echoed through both of us
yesterday, separate, in the evening...

- Rainer Maria Rilke

Return

Quiet as is proper for such places;
The street, subdued, half-snow, half-rain,
Endless, but ending in the darkened doors.
Inside, they who will be there always,
Quiet as is proper for such people--
Enough for now to be here, and
To know my door is one of these.

- Robert Creeley

Midi

Muscles and torsoes of cloud 
ascended over the mountains. 
The fields looked like high speed 
so new-mown was the hay,

then the dark blue Italian lavender 
met overhead, a strange maize 
deeply planted as mass javelins 
in the hoed floor of the land.

Insects in plastic armour stared 
from their turrets, and munched 
as others machined stiffly over us 
and we turned, enchanted 
in sweet walling breath 
under far-up gables of the lavender.

- Les Murray

Exiliados

We didn’t hold typhoons or tropics in our hands.
I didn’t reach across the table on our first date
at Cornelia Street Café. In my humid pockets,

my fists were old tennis balls thrown to the stray dog
of love bouncing toward the Hudson down
to South Ferry. We didn’t hold hands in that cold

October wind, but the waves witnessed our promise
to return to my cratered-deforested homeland,
and you to your parents’, sometime in the future.

No citizenship or some other violence in our countries
(separated by the Pacific, tied by the latitude
of dragon fruits, tamarinds, mangosteens) was why

we couldn’t, and can’t, return for now. Then, us
in the subway at 2 am, oh the things I dreamt: a kiss
to the back of your neck, collarbone, belly-button, there—

to kneel and bow my head, then return to the mole
next to your lips and taste your latitude together.
Instead, I went home, you touched my cheek,

it was enough. I stood, remembering what it’s like
to stand on desert dirt wishing stars would fall
as rain, on that huge dark country ahead of me.


- Javier Zamora

In Passing

On the Canadian side, we’re standing far enough away
the Falls look like photography, the roar a radio.

In the real rain, so vertical it fuses with the air,
the boat below us is starting for the caves.

Everyone on deck is dressed in black, braced for weather
and crossing against the current of the river.

They seem lost in the gorge dimensions of the place,
then, in fog, in a moment, gone.
In the Chekhov story,
the lovers live in a cloud, above the sheer witness of a valley.

They call it circumstance. They look up at the open wing
of the sky, or they look down into the future.

Death is a power like any other pull of the earth.
The people in the raingear with the cameras want to see it

from the inside, from behind, from the dark looking into the light.
They want to take its picture, give it size—

how much easier to get lost in the gradations of a large
and yellow leaf drifting its good-bye down one side of the
            gorge.

There is almost nothing that does not signal loneliness,
then loveliness, then something connecting all we will become.

All around us the luminous passage of the air,
the flat, wet gold of the leaves. I will never love you

more than at this moment, here in October,
the new rain rising slowly from the river.

- Stanley Plumly

Sonnet for Mark

Now wakes a path between the oaks, now

falls a spell of dove and frog, and stones

dream of their mountain clans and each stick

breaks to hear its name. Now light edges creek

and water appears as a quick coin trick or

silk pulled from a funnel of months, now

behind us, at last, and shade and sky fill

the mirror moving from next to next. Now

do you see there is no stillness to this world?

Even in sleep a seed is knitting its breach

from the dark and the body hums

on the march to becoming less and right

now; words depart then arrive, like a brush

returning to a well of color.

- Emma Trelles

Adaptation, Tel Aviv

I squeeze the aloe
flesh over my knees

as your cousin scolds me
for saying ocean

when we are by a sea.
To me this is casual—

isn’t it all the same water?—
to her it isn’t.

What I could call her
is colonist since

it takes one to know.
Later, I wake when evening

still stains viridian
above the pink

and lemon neighborhood
to the schhh

of your grandfather’s
slippers on the tile which I hear

as the first soft syllable
of the name

we share. Six years
now you and I don’t speak.

If I was not in love
there are secrets

a self keeps safe—
if I was you were right

to forget me.

- Sam Ross, from Company

Sunset Park

The Chinese truck driver
throws the rope
like a lasso, with a practiced flick,

over the load:
where it hovers an instant,
then arcs like a willow

into the waiting,
gloved hand
of his brother.

What does it matter
that, sitting in traffic,
I glanced out the window

and found them that way?
So lean and sleek-muscled
in their sweat-stiffened t-shirts:

offloading the pallets
just so they can load up
again in the morning,

and so on,
and so forth,
forever like that—

like Sisyphus
I might tell them
if I spoke Mandarin,

or had a Marlboro to offer,
or thought for a minute
they’d believe it

when I say that I know
how it feels
to break your own

back for a living.
Then again,
what’s the difference?

When every light
for a mile turns
green all at once,

no matter how much
I might like
to keep watching

the older one squint
and blow smoke
through his nose?

Something like sadness,
like joy, like a sudden
love for my life,

and for the body
in which I have lived it,
overtaking me all at once,

as a bus driver honks
and the setting
sun glints, so bright

off a windshield
I wince and look back
and it’s gone.

- Patrick Phillips

Will You?

When, at the end, the children wanted
to add glitter to their valentines, I said no.

I said nope, no, no glitter, and then,
when they started to fuss, I found myself

saying something my brother’s football coach
used to bark from the sidelines when one

of his players showed signs of being
human: oh come on now, suck it up.

That’s what I said to my children.
Suck what up? my daughter asked,

and, because she is so young, I told her
I didn’t know and never mind, and she took

that for an answer. My children are so young
when I turn off the radio as the news turns

to counting the dead or naming the act,
they aren’t even suspicious. My children

are so young they cannot imagine a world
like the one they live in. Their God is still

a real God, a whole God, a God made wholly
of actions. And I think they think I work

for that God. And I know they will someday soon
see everything and they will know about

everything and they will no longer take
never mind for an answer. The valentines

would’ve been better with glitter, and my son
hurt himself on an envelope, and then, much

later, when we were eating dinner, my daughter
realized she’d forgotten one of the three

Henrys in her class. How can there be three Henrys
in one class? I said, and she said, Because there are.

And so, before bed we took everything out
again—paper and pens and stamps and scissors—

and she sat at the table with her freshly washed hair
parted smartly down the middle and wrote

WILL YOU BE MINE, HENRY T.? and she did it
so carefully, I could hardly stand to watch.

- Carrie Fountain (Originally published on poets.org)