[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)

Three Sentences for a Dead Swan

1.
There they are now,
The wings,
And I heard them beginning to starve
Between two cold white shadows,
But I dreamed they would rise
Together,
My black Ohioan swan.


2.
Now one after another I let the black scales fall
From the beautiful black spine
Of this lonesome dragon that is born on the earth at last,
My black fire,
Ovoid of my darkness,
Machine-gunned and shattered hillsides of yellow trees
In the Autumn of my blood where the apples
Purse their wild lips and smirk knowingly
That my love is dead.


3.
Here, carry his splintered bones
Slowly, slowly
Back into the
Tar and chemical strangled tomb,
The strange water, the
Ohio river, that is no tomb to
Rise from the dead
From.

- James Wright, from Shall We Gather at the River

"Christ has sanctified the desert,

and in the desert I discovered it. The woods have all become young in the discipline of the spring: but it is the discipline of expectancy only. Which one cut more keenly? The February sunlight, or the air? There are no buds. Buds are not guessed at, or thought of, this early in Lent. But the wilderness shines with promise. The land is dressed in simplicity and strength. Everything foretells the coming of the holy spring. I had never before spoken so freely or so intimately with woods, hills, birds, water, and sky. On this great day, however, they understood their position and they remained mute in the presence of the Beloved. Only his light was obvious and eloquent. My brother and sister, the light and water. The stump and the stone. The tables of rock. The blue, naked sky. Tractor tracks, a little waterfall. And Mediterranean solitude. I thought of Italy after my Beloved had spoken and was gone.”

- Thomas Merton, from The Sign of Jonas

Mondrian Tissue Box

And I thought only characters in film alternated between
laughter and tears in the shower when it thundered.

When it was my turn to cry, I bent my head
and closed my eyes and the colors were a diaspora.

I spent a lot of time deciphering twigs from worms.
My horoscope says many Leos will die today. Another horoscope

says strut your stuff. That a whole generation
won’t know the sound of a rotary dial in their ear.

I swallow and think of who you last loved; bent over the way I am
I bend my head to take her into me. You will experience a Disintegration.

If there is anything to be known about obsession,
it is to say by staring, I could take her into me.

I’ve stared at someone’s name for that long,
the tears decrescendo, sunset shampooed and alive.

Mondrian doll faces in the grime of the window, Botticelli shoulders
mermaids and anime girls with pearl earrings.

It’s 10:36: I was born at this time. You will
laugh as the thunder comes. Your mind will wring you dry.

- Jessica Scicchitano (first published in Columbia Journal)

Terminal

My neck is sore from looking up at the bay of TVs above the airport bar,

live-action news of emergency crews around the 767

that overran the runway, crashed into the breaker stones outside.

I witnessed it from my gate, was the first to wander over here in a daze

where for two hours now I’ve sat with others,

shoulder-to-shoulder, another three rows standing to capacity.

Ambulance strobes look pink through the natural static of wintry mix.

Those kept out are forced to huddle around the windows

to watch the action in real-time. The strange elation

of witnessing disaster. I feel it pulsing through the air,

a shared intimacy, and yet how lonely it makes each of us,

none of whom are responsible for being where we are.

My neighbor orders us another round I wish I didn’t want,

could say no thanks I’ve had enough because I have,

but I accept it with a cheers. I hate the way I smile as I drink it.

We shared a plate of wings, almost like friends.

A man holding his smartphone checks his wristwatch for the time

beside departures in a column glowing red.

A correspondent in an anorak walks on screen,

squints against the weather, presses a finger to his ear

to better hear the questions of his colleague in the studio.

Conversations expand, grow louder to resist new info;

knowing nothing for sure feels like a special kind of freedom.

My neighbor asks why do the replays of the crash look so different than what I saw?

Starched white napkins orange with prints of sauce-stained mouths.

Spilled vodka sodas, plates of bones. My neighbor asks do you know what I mean?

I press a finger to my ear and ask could he repeat that?

A channel splits the livestream with crash footage

shot on phones from within the terminal,

then a recording of the crowd watching the crash.

How we jumped up from our seats. Held our hands to our mouths.

Reached for our devices. People hiss for quiet, searching for themselves

on screen. That I’m unable to see what my face was reacting to,

regardless of the fact that I had witnessed it,

makes the past seem incomplete.

Requests for silverware, closed captioning.

I say when I saw my brother’s mugshot on the news

I wasn’t convinced it was him. The nose was right. But the face

too fleshy. Spectral mists of de-icing spray drift into the frame.

He says I once saw a plane filled with Herefords headed for Japan

crash on takeoff up in Anchorage. Notoriously bad winds there.

Shattered trees and bloody steak.

I feel obligated to keep this up, repulsed by the reminder of obligations.

Deadlines, itineraries, itemized receipts.

I said that I read that “daiboufu” in Japanese means the wind

that knocks down horses. He says we’re talking cattle and besides I’ve heard that.

I know he hasn’t heard that.

Minor betrayals are happening everywhere.

Someone says just to smoke a cigarette you’ve got to go all the way out,

come all the way back.

The window crowd erupts in applause before news cameras

have even focused on the plane doors bursting open, yellow slides inflating.

By the time we cheer for the first passenger to jump

she’s already on the tarmac walking toward us.

- Will Brewer (Originally published in The Rumpus)

Getting a Second Opinion

I've just bought you a new winter coat
and we're temporarily sane, 
cruising two blocks down the street 
from K-Mart in Rapid City. 
Three young Indian boys, 
fourteen, maybe fifteen years 
old and living the thug life 
are strolling across the busy street 
making cars stop and I slam on 
the brakes and give them the finger 
and they flash gang signs and one pulls 
a small, silver gun and I stomp on the gas 
and in the rearview mirror I see them 
laughing and I know positively 
by the fear in your eyes that 
not only is the white man's God 
dead, but the Great Spirit is too.

— Adrian C. Louis

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

Into Each Room We Enter Without Knowing

1

A boy dyes his shirt the iridescent blue of sky

at dusk—or is it dawn? Rouged & glittered
he begins, smacking lips, licking gums

inside the club’s electronic hum.
         Older men,
displayed by the bar, slip off their tees—
leading the child
a labor of word, lyre, bark—
Ecstatic, he lurks into the back room, slipping
his tongue through the body’s shutters.
Floorboards unravel into a skein of metal.
What pattern of occasion will free him?


2

A prayer rug for a strict occasion.

A patch of sand, enclosed within a mesh fence,
where women in headscarves kneel on sajda,
hot from the day’s sun, a pleasure this agony
of warmth & muscle: knee to sand, head to sand.
A pleasure: restraint from lamb & water,
the empty carafe, the scales of fish

meatless & hanging to dry,
the grapes never to become wine.


3

Eating grapes, my friend harangues me
about the state of affairs in Riyadh.
His lips are wet, he is driving a Nissan rental.
At a streetlight, a single blackstart lands
on the side-view mirror: a lore of midnight
& melancholy song. “This Arab spring,”
my friend continues, my friend stops. . .

“Yes,” I say, thinking of the blackstart
somewhere in a baobab by now.

4

Somewhere, a mother faints at the butcher

when a lamb’s tongue is cut from the head—

the butcher pressing his fingers into

the eye sockets for leverage
                                    & the vague cool
of the air passing through the room awakes her
as when Mohammed awoke
in the night desert: no spruce to shade the dead
meat of him, no wind, not even stars—
& as the mother exits
a boy begins his journey to the city,

wearing yellow sandals & a ring on each finger.

- Charif Shanahan

Lateral Dimensions

Cloudy night—
not enough stars
to make frost

haunted house—
one room the cattle 
never would go in

mowing done—
each thing's a ship again 
on a wide green harbour

purification—
newspapers soaked in rain 
before they are read

an airliner, high—
life falling in from space 
to ramify

rodeo bull 
he wins every time 
then back on the truck

only one car 
of your amber necklace 
holds a once-living passenger

afternoon plains—
the only hill ahead 
is the rising moon

eels' 
liquid jostle through the grass 
that night of the year

big pelican, begging, 
hook through one yellow foot—
and nobody dares

on line 
the first motor car 
trotting without a horse

joking 
in a foreign language 
everyone looks down

accused of history 
many decide 
not to know any

all the colours 
of inside a pumpkin—
Mallee forest in rain 


- Les Murray