Poems I Love
You Reading This, Be Ready
by William Stafford
Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?
Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?
When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life –
What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?
Five Thousand Blackbirds
After the death of blackbirds and drum fish in Beebe, Arkansas, on 1/1/11.
by Melissa Slayton
Say what you will about science and
the deadly firmament
that is the New Year’s sky.
Say the birds hit power lines.
Fireworks, with magnanimous
splatter, jarred them
from their cedar roost. But I
have seen a cat’s mouth
ajar with blackbird
and that same blackbird
pry open the unwilling
jaw, skyrocket towards
the roving moon.
Blackbirds wouldn’t die
from hitting power lines.
Ignored by augurs,
they demand attention
for the world’s injuries.
It’s a graceful way
to go, though, their fiery
in snowy puddles.
And also beautiful, the way
the drum fish scattered on
the Arkansas River’s
shore. I bet people
who walked there
on January 1st sighed
and their stomachs heaved
But the lovers who hurt
with a fresh pang
stayed on the shore,
enchanted with something
they could not reach.
They recognized the sense
of falling from the sky,
the fear of scientists who,
after love breaks you,
will blame only the fireworks.
Published in Tinge Magazine, Issue 1
The Shrinking Lonesome Sestina
by Miller Williams
Somewhere in everyone's head something points toward home,
a dashboard's floating compass, turning all the time
to keep from turning. It doesn't matter how we come
to be wherever we are, someplace where nothing goes
the way it went once, where nothing holds fast
to where it belongs, or what you've risen or fallen to.
What the bubble always points to,
whether we notice it or not, is home.
It may be true that if you move fast
everything fades away, that given time
and noise enough, every memory goes
into the blackness, and if new ones come-
small, mole-like memories that come
to live in the furry dark-they, too,
curl up and die. But Carol goes
to high school now. John works at home
what days he can to spend some time
with Sue and the kids. He drives too fast.
Ellen won't eat her breakfast.
Your sister was going to come
but didn't have the time.
Some mornings at one or two
or three I want you home
a lot, but then it goes.
It all goes.
Hold on fast
to thoughts of home
when they come.
They're going to
less with time.
Forgive me that. One time it wasn't fast.
A myth goes that when the years come
then you will, too. Me, I'll still be home.
by Adrian C. Louis
A flat tire ten miles
east of Pine Ridge
just past the Wounded Knee turnoff.
I disembark into Siberia
looking for Zhivago.
A non-stopping semi whines away
into a state of exhaustion.
This winter night is held
in silence as if a giant squid
fell upon the land and froze.
Scraggly pines try to feel
up the miserable moon.
Snapping twigs signal
Here there are no distant
no all-night neon.
I click the safety off my .22 Llama
and light a cigar.
Coyote eyes float
in deep-ass blackness.
Coyote eyes float
in deep-ass blackness,
Coyote eyes gloat
in black glass glee
and I laugh and return to my car.
It drives pretty good
on three tires.
To the Little Girl in the Used Car Lot off Second Avenue
by Priscilla Atkins
Years later, the woman stumbles, falls
through stagnant images,
phantoms of a voiceless cry
(did that man just slam his daughter
on the trunk of that car?),
sometimes she is so tired
of seeing, tasting, knowing that her body
has no place to go,
she hears a man yell, “IF YOU DON’T STOP MISBEHAVING!”
his voice jackknifes, hisses, black rocks
stab at her groin, her little dog tugs at the leash—
don’t stop, keep going, the world is so big—
she will walk in a circle, she will walk in a circle,
she will know what to do,
years later, she still sees a pale blue jacket,
two dark puffs of pigtails, the car’s
sickly turquoise rattling past her,
even in the night when she prays
maybe death from complications is okay,
maybe we do not all need to know wood sorrel,
scrolling strapwork, lambs dotting a spring pasture.
First Person Plural Is a House
by Brian Teare
where I put myself in the third person in a bed I know
his older brother’s hands will visit. It’s no mistake incest starts with an eye:
at this distance they’re theoretical as dolls, rhetorical as pain imagined,
but they can’t see the word they create with their bodies, can’t know
their bodies won’t stop speaking, always somewghere
that word on the tongue in the mouth of another.
In the kitchen stands Mother, wringing her hands
like wet laundry, no: rubbing their stained fabric together
to clean them of song. Living room geometry: Father’s face acute
behind a bottle of whiskey: his arithmetic kisses. How many fingers, sucked
down, will fill him, how many until the bottle’s clear?
On the porch, outside the poem, I smoke a cigarette, note
how a narrative’s ending denotes another beginning, how no bottle
remains empty, no hands, no mouth or hips. I’m not worried:
no one else watches his story being written. I want to know:
with what grammar he’ll enact it, with which line breaking,
he’ll hold the slip of syntax between him
and me. When I say I, I mean eye, sum of my watching.
The Burly Fading One
by Robert Hayden
The burly fading one beside the engine,
holding a lantern in his hand,
is Uncle Jed--bullyboy
of wintered recollections now.
Coal miner, stevedore, and railroad man,
oh how he brawls and loves,
a Bible over his headlong heart
and no liquor on his breath.
And when he dies, dies not in his own
well-mastered bed but in the waters
of the Johnstown flood, in wild attempt--
so sibling innuendoes all aver--
To save the jolly girl
his wife had mortally wished dead.
For the Thief
by Alison Hawthorne Deming
Thank you for leaving the desk and the chair,
the books, snapshots and piano.
I've heard of moving van robberies—
coming home from work to percussion
of empty rooms. Thank you for
leaving the trapped air
that softens the blunt edge of my day.
What's mine—the hum of identity—
still surrounds me,
though the electronics
are gone and the jewelry
that was too precious to wear.
Thank you for not spraying
the walls with coke or with piss.
Thank you being a professional,
tidy and quick, entering with a clean
silent cut, not wasting your time
or mine with vandalism or assault.
When my mother was robbed
the closets and drawers were dumped
on the floor. All that was stolen were
towels that had hung in her bathroom.
Her neighbors, the police said, had
lost their cookware. Better our houses
become someone's mall than shooting range.
With my cousins, one in New York took
a knife-blade against her throat.
Another in Madrid was dragged
three blocks by her hair. Thank you
for knowing what you were here for,
for tending to your business without rage.
by Connie Voisine
when I was fourteen I wrote lies to an incarcerated man in Florida
lies about my pretty clothes my palomino my disco records gold rings my mother
bought me he believed me I knew it was a sin but I was so
poor and hated having to eat anything that was free my prisoner wrote
he wanted to eat me lick my legs slowly like two popsicles down
to the white stick I traded our surplus cheese from the state
for an electric Lady Shaver and I shaved myself for days
in secret the disco on the radio flooding over my legs I bent I twisted
touched every inch with the razor the plastic shell buzzed in my hand
and numbed my skin while my mother pounded on the door
I was hungry I yelled she kept pounding we all are too
The Mother Writes to the Murderer: A Letter
by Naomi Shihab Nye
To you whose brain is a blunt fist
pushed deep inside your skull
whose eyes are empty bullets
whose mouth is a stone more speechless
than lost stones at the bottoms of rivers
who lives in a shrunken world where nothing blooms
and no promise is ever kept
To you who face I never saw but now see
everywhere the rest of my life
You don’t know where she hid her buttons
arranged in families by color or size
tissue-wrapped in an oatmeal box
how she told them goodnight sleep well
and never felt ashamed
You don’t know her favorite word
and I won’t tell you
You don’t have her drawings taped to your refrigerator
blue circuses, red farms
You don’t know she cried once in a field of cows
saying they were too beautiful to eat
I’m sure you never thought of that
I’m sure nothing is too beautiful for you to eat
You have no idea what our last words were to one another
how terribly casual
because I thought she was going a block away
with her brother to the store
They would be back in ten minutes
I was ironing her dress
while two houses away an impossible darkness
rose up around my little girl
What can I wish you in return?
I was thinking knives and pistols
high voltages searing off your nerves
I was wishing you could lose your own life
bit by bit finger by toe
and know what my house is like
how many doors I still have to open
Maybe worse would be for you to love something
and have it snatched up sifted out of your sight
for what reason?
a flurry of angels recalled to heaven
and then see how you sit
and move and remember
how you sleep at night
how you feel about mail my letter to you
all the letters passing through all the hands
of the people on earth
when the only one that matters
is the one you can neither receive
With a first line taken from the tv listings
by R.S. Gwynn
A man is haunted by his father's ghost.
Boy meets girl while feuding families fight.
A Scottish king is murdered by his host.
Two couples get lost on a summer night.
A hunchback murders all who block his way.
A ruler's rivals plot against his life.
A fat man and a prince make rebels pay.
A noble Moor has doubts about his wife.
An English king decides to conquer France.
A duke learns that his best friend is a she.
A forest sets the scene for this romance.
An old man and his daughters disagree.
A Roman leader makes a big mistake.
A sexy queen is bitten by a snake.
It Was Then
by Diane Glancy
. . . these are the mere edges of His ways—Job 26:14
From the window, the windbreaks and furrows argued.
I was not afraid by then, but held onto the swift turns
hard evidences of the shifting earth.
I wanted to feel these words as paintings
the way I felt when I danced
but there was no one to dance with
the way I wanted to dance
but stopped at every turn.
I kept inventing new roads
between the wales of corduroy
or were they rows of fields I traveled?—
All the distances to get away from—
it was then as now—
mere edges to cross.
This earth sits on a plate
over which God holds his knife and fork—
or was it pruning fork?—
A glob of a God
wondrous, large, expanding outward.
The Book of Revelation with a Rare Audio Recording of Abel’s Monologue
by O-Jeremiah Agbaakin
before, after & for the Christchurch mosque attack
last night, i was an omniscient again.
the evening sky was orange like crushed carrot.
i didn’t die though my body fell off
a bridge, limping away like a serpent bruised
by the son’s gunpowder. in the dream
i carried all my dead inside the wide casket
of my wail and to leave the city now
is to find a crack in the world: which is why
i’m stuck in this poem. my bladder fills
with blood. my heart stopped ticking like a clock
marking the end of time. & i ran & ran
as guns whistled their venom in the open harmattan.
my country was burning. all the men
were singeing into a pile of raven without wings
their birdsong fossilized into lukewarm char.
in my vision, a danfo omnibus was heading out of
the world; the bus stop filled with one-legged
tarry, one-legged panic. i was no more a child
picking bullet casings like cracked peanuts for fun
like i once gathered bleeding machetes from a world
war that started on our porch, circa forever.
but i am trying to gather what is more forbidden:
an apple before it falls on eve’s hand, a bullet
still in motion, a hand grenade before it unfolds its
fist into smoke, a tongue after it says brother—
meat flesh is more pleasing than cabbage flesh because
of blood. you cannot blame me. in the dream,
a gunman my age shoots his voice & there a small
war gathers in his throat. but fear can
no longer hold power when it’s come to pass.
i cede myself to the belly of a whale to find
water to drown this dream of fire. i cede myself without
feeling naked like this sky with no star spot;
like God stripped of his parts he wanted unrevealed before
the fruit was plucked from the field of vision.
then i stirred and jumped out of the dream back into my eyes
and unsaddled my bladder but there was no
blood and i wrote this down and i quaked as i pulled out
my cell to seek out the dead from the night.
tonight dreamland is the unsafest country to stay.
—published on the Rattle website
We Manage Most When We Manage Small
by Linda Gregg
What things are steadfast? Not the birds.
Not the bride and groom who hurry
in their brevity to reach one another.
The stars do not blow away as we do.
The heavenly things ignite and freeze.
But not as my hair falls before you.
Fragile and momentary. we continue.
Fearing madness in all things huge
and their requiring. Managing as thin light
on water. Managing only greetings
and farewells. We love a little, as the mice
huddle, as the goat leans against my hand.
As the lovers quickening, riding time.
Making safety in the moment. This touching
home goes far. This fishing in the air.