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

Fragment from John Ashbery

“…Summer is all about being a season.
I’m not sure I can take too much more
of it, but while it lasts I’m along
for the ride. I’d be a jerk
not to be especially since there’s no
alternative, it just keeps coming,
and we take it in, like a barn accepting
bales of hay from a hay wain, until
they’re gone. That will have to do.
Besides (did I mention it?), I’m tired.
This day’s a wrap. Others will happen along,
maybe fall in love with one. But that’s another story.
We’ll find a new wand, horizons will be bright
and anxious. A friend will give us
what we’re owed and something extra,
something we couldn’t have imagined,
a space like a dream.”

- John Ashbery


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


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

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

Summer Solstice, New York City

By the end of the longest day of the year he could not stand it,
he went up the iron stairs through the roof of the building
and over the soft, tarry surface
to the edge, put one leg over the complex green tin cornice
and said if they came a step closer that was it.
Then the huge machinery of the earth began to work for his life,
the cops came in their suits blue-grey as the sky on a cloudy evening,
and one put on a bullet-proof vest, a
black shell around his own life,
life of his children's father, in case
the man was armed, and one, slung with a
rope like the sign of his bounden duty,
came up out of a hole in the top of the neighboring building
like the gold hole they say is in the top of the head,
and began to lurk toward the man who wanted to die.
The tallest cop approached him directly,
softly, slowly, talking to him, talking, talking,
while the man's leg hung over the lip of the next world
and the crowd gathered in the street, silent, and the
hairy net with its implacable grid was
unfolded near the curb and spread out and
stretched as the sheet is prepared to receive a birth.
Then they all came a little closer
where he squatted next to his death, his shirt
glowing its milky glow like something
growing in a dish at night in the dark in a lab and then
everything stopped
as his body jerked and he
stepped down from the parapet and went toward them
and they closed on him, I thought they were going to
beat him up, as a mother whose child has been
lost will scream at the child when its found, they
took him by the arms and held him up and
leaned him against the wall of the chimney and the
tall cop lit a cigarette
in his own mouth, and gave it to him, and
then they all lit cigarettes, and the
red, glowing ends burned like the
tiny campfires we lit at night
back at the beginning of the world.

- Sharon Olds

[Once there was rage and the promise]

Once there was rage and the promise
that rage was a god not a corpse
message nor a melting of the core.
Once it moved us closer to weather
and thunder and it made poetry
as a cure. Then Herodotus broke
my heart with his history: his rumor
that begins as living twice and ends
as recompense for loss. Events bent me.
I took the arrow of accuracy in my eye.
The sugary accounts made me votary,
the biographical acids lashed my back.
I gave up songs for facts: those green
squawking parrots, that fire truck,
that earring, that body bound and gagged.
Then America broke my other heart
with its jails and gerrymandering,
its Emmett Till, its charms
and concussions, its ringing in my ears.
Who’s the president? Who’s your mother?
Who painted the angels? Who bombed
Homs? Repeat after me: comorbid,
torpid, transported. Close one eye. Hum.
Where’s your mother’s nation? Your father’s
sky? Who’s your other? Close the other eye.

- Bruce Smith, from “Spill”

Self-Portrait in a Gold Kimono

Born, I was born.

                               Tears represent how much my mother loves me,

shivering and steaming like a horse in rain.

                                                         My heart as innocent as Buddha's,

my name a Parisian bandleader's,

                                                            I am trying to stand.

Father is holding me and blowing in my ear,

                                                                  like a glassblower on a flame.

Stars on his blue serge uniform flaunt a feeling

                                                             of formal precision and stoicism.

Growing, I am growing now,

                                       as straight as red pines in the low mountains.

Please don't leave, Grandmother Pearl.

                                                                      I become distressed

watching the president's caisson.

                                                 We, we together move to the big house.

Shining, the sun is shining on my time line.

                                                                           Tears, copper-hot tears,

spatter the house 

                                when Father is drunk, irate, and boisterous.

The essence of self emerges

                                                  shuttling between parents.

Noel, the wet nimbus of Noel's tongue

                                                                       draws me out of the pit.

I drop acid with Rita.

                                         Chez Woo eros is released.

I eat sugar like a canary from a grown man's tongue.

                                                                                  The draft card torn up;

the war lost.

                        I cling like a cicada to the latticework of memory.

Mother: "I have memories, too.

                                                           Don't let me forget them."

Father: "I'm glad the journey is set.

                                                                  I'm glad I'm going."

Crows, the voices of crows

                                             leaving their nests at dawn, circle around,

as I sit in a gold kimono,

                                             feeling the subterranean magma flows,

the sultry air, the hand holding a pen,

                                                                      bending to write,

Thank you,

                      Mother and Father, for creating me.

- Henri Cole

Poem in October

It was my thirtieth year to heaven
Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbor wood

            And the mussel pooled and the heron

                                    Priested shore

                        The morning beckon

With water praying and call of seagull and rook

And the knock of sailing boats on the net webbed wall

                        Myself to set foot

                                    That second

            In the still sleeping town and set forth.


            My birthday began with the water-

Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name

            Above the farms and the white horses

                                    And I rose

                        In rainy autumn

And walked abroad in a shower of all my days.

High tide and the heron dived when I took the road

                        Over the border

                                    And the gates

            Of the town closed as the town awoke.

            A springful of larks in a rolling

Cloud and and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling

            Blackbirds and the sun of October


                        On the hill's shoulder,

Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly

Come in the morning where I wandered and listened

                        to the rain wringing

                                    Wind blow cold

            In the wood faraway under me.

            Pale rain over the dwindling harbour

And over the sea wet church the size of a snail

            With its horns through mist and the castle

                                    Brown as owls

                        But all the gardens

Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales

Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud.

                        There could I marvel

                                    My birthday

            Away but the weather turned around.

            It turned away from the blithe country

And down the other air and the blue altered sky

            Streamed again a wonder of summer

                                    With apples

                        Pears and red currants

And i saw in the turning so clearly a child's

Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother

                        Through the parables

                                    Of sun light

            And the legends of the green chapels

            And the twice told fields of infancy

That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.

            These were the woods the river and the sea

                                    Where a boy

                        In the listening

Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy

To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.

                        And the mystery

                                    Sang alive

            Still in the water and singingbirds.

            And there could I marvel my birthday

Away but the weather turned around. And the true

            Joy of the long dead child sang burning

                                    In the sun.

                        It was my thirtieth

Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon

Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.

                        O may my heart's truth

                                    Still be sung

            On this high hill in a year's turning.

- Dylan Thomas


Mine, I know, started at a distance
five hundred and twenty light-years away
and fell as stardust into my sleeping mouth,
yesterday, at birth, or that time when I was ten
lying on my back looking up at the cluster
called the Beehive or by its other name
in the constellation Cancer,
the Crab, able to move its nebulae projections
backward and forward, side to side,
in the tumor Hippocrates describes as carcinoma,
from karkinos, the analogue, in order to show
what being cancer looks like.
Star, therefore, to start,
like waking on the best day of your life
to feel this living and immortal thing inside you.
You were in love, you were a saint,
you were going to walk the sunlight blessing water,
you were almost word for word forever.
The crown, the throne, the thorn—
now to see the smoke shining in the mirror,
the long half-dark of dark down the hallway inside it.
Now to see what wasn’t seen before:
the old loved landscape fading from the window,
the druid soul within the dying tree,
the depth of blue coloring the cornflower,
the birthday-ribbon river of a road,
and the young man who resembles you
opening a door in the half-built house
you helped your father build,
saying, in your voice, come forth.

- Stanley Plumly



The train, which I took back
across the great plain,
I tell you, it was a monster
with a swollen belly.

It had a lair in Pulawy,
ravened in Warsaw;
children greeted it
and it swallowed them.

Now they’re playing together—
the boys from the blocks,
the girls with the matches,
Aesculapius in palaestra.

Their parents have managed
to toss each one a toy:
hamsters in an aquarium,
A PlayStation, and a stamp album.

The parents are getting older,
longing consumes them,
now it’s they who come
to greet the travelers.

They look at their watches
through dark glasses,
and would like to light up,
but where’s the fire?

Until the icebreaker Sadness
weighs anchor.
Until the Summer School
of Common Language begins.

I was there, I know what I’m saying,
it was a thick monster—
the train, which I took back
across the great plain.

   - by Dariusz Sosnicki
     (Translated from the Polish, by Piotr Florczyk and Boris Dralyuk)

Parable of Flight

A flock of birds leaving the side of the mountain. 
Black against the spring evening, bronze in early summer,
rising over blank lake water. 

Why is the young man disturbed suddenly,
his attention slipping from his companion?
His heart is no longer wholly divided; he's trying to think
how to say this compassionately. 

Now we hear the voices of the others, moving through the library
toward the veranda, the summer porch; we see them
taking their usual places on the various hammocks and chairs,
the white wood chairs of the old house, rearranging
the striped cushions. 

Does it matter where the birds go? Does it even matter
what species they are?
They leave here, that's the point,
first their bodies, then their sad cries.
And from that moment, cease to exist for us. 

You must learn to think of our passion that way. 
Each kiss was real, then
each kiss left the face of the earth. 

- Louise Gluck

"These are the killed.

(By me) --
Morton, Baker, early friends of mine. 
Joe Bernstein. 3 Indians. 
A blacksmith when I was twelve, with a knife. 
5 Indians in self defence (behind a very safe rock). 
One man who bit me during a robbery. 
Brady, Hindman, Beckwith, Joe Clark,
Deputy Jim Carlyle, Deputy Sheriff J.W. Bell.
And Bob Ollinger. A rabid cat
birds during practice,

These are the killed. 

(By them) --
Charlie, Tom O'Folliard
Angela D's split arm, 
                                    and Pat Garrett
sliced off my head. 
Blood a necklace on me all my life."

- Michael Ondaatje, The Collected Works of Billy The Kid



A Necessary Exorcism

"Callow & in another century, I leered at white girls &
dreamed of a future where my lips might boldly graze
upon their pretty, pale globes. Middle-aged & eating
sardines on a reservation, I re-assessed the collective der-
riere of Indian womanhood & saw a kite-like tail, its
host of ancestor ghosts fluttering far back into baying
wolf pack days. Reawakened, I made my choice so easily
& picked red drama, the joyous pain of it all & that is
why, darling, I drove six hours to silently stand with my
hot hands upon your frozen tombstone, the pitiful prai-
rie  snow whimpering down." 

...Adrian C. Louis, from his collection "Random Exorcisms." A writer whose work I admire a great deal, and who is probably not read / talked about as much as he should be.