Poems

The World

I couldn't tell one song from another,
which bird said what or to whom or for what reason.

The oak tree seemed to be writing something using very few words.
I couldn't decide which door to open--they looked the same, or what

would happen when I did reach out and turn a knob. I thought I was safe,
standing there
but my death remembered its date:

only so many summer nights still stood before me, full moon, waning moon,
October mornings: what to make of them? which door?

I couldn't tell which stars were which or how far away any one of them was,
or which were still burning or not--their light moving through space like a
long

late train--and I've lived on this earth so long--50 winters, 50 springs and
summers,
and all this time stars in the sky--in daylight

when I couldn't see them, and at night when, most nights, I didn't look.

- Marie Howe, from The Kingdom of Ordinary Time

Students

You see me here smeared
with chalk and pressed against
the slate-gray triptych from fear,
white as paper, white as a flensed
seal. Sometimes I can step outside
myself and listen
to my voice in its best bedside
manner reassure with glistening
lies, with cool purgatorial lies,
that although this is fall
we are not complying
and my heart goes out to myself.


I think when I go home of the syllabus
of love and horror movies
you’ve sat through in the Very Rich Hours
of your summer. The corpses are gorgeous,
and the books just begin to be
the artifice we need to begin.
To begin: to cut open. To love:
to be cut open and to heal and to cut open.
And I thought I could be above
It all—professional, textual, sacrificial.

- Bruce Smith

Illness and Literature

In those cold rooms with the blue plastic chairs, sometimes the human condition is an old Texas redneck with a brushy mustache reading a Louis L’Amour novel while waiting for his chemotherapy; this tough old man who ran an auto-parts store for years, then bought a whole chain of auto-parts stores, who sits now furiously reading about fistfights and saloons, as the cattle drive heads up into Wyoming to the summer pasture in the big sky country. The schoolmarm buys two yards of calico in the general store and the drunken sheriff gathers his nerve for the public gunfight in the dusty street, while the cancer keeps plowing, plowing, plowing on a small piece of land just west of town; while the owner of the valley, and of the whole darn territory, is this leathery old Texan in the blue plastic chair who shifts from his left buttock to his right, tugs at his mustache, and turns the page. He has a long way to go — he’s got to get to Abilene before they hang the wrong man. Now, hearing his name called from the clinic door, he stands and walks into the hot dry wind, his spurs ringing on the polished floor. - Tony Hoagland ( - 10/23/2018) / originally published in The Sun

Low Tide, Late August

That last summer when everything was almost always terrible
we waded into the bay one late afternoon as the tide had almost finished
pulling all the way out

and sat down in the waist-deep water,
I floating on his lap facing him, my legs floating around him,
and we quietly coupled,

and stayed, loosely joined like that, not moving,
but being moved by the softly sucking and lapping water,
as the pulling out reached its limit and the tide began to flow slowly back again.

Some children ran after each other, squealing in the shallows, near but not too near.

I rested my chin on his shoulder looking toward the shore.
As he must have been looking over my shoulder, to where the water deepened
and the small boats tugged on their anchors.

Osip

It's hard to comprehend
White horses
Did not arrive
In the end

Across the seas
Across the Urals
To where you are standing
Dead

But these days
I can tell you

On my word
I hear them

Clop      clop      clop

Tramping for you
The distance
Over these
New Soviet cities

Sighing chrome and silver
And coughing up nightsticks

Breathing in black windows
Breathing out white ribbons

- Alan Jude Moore