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

shoulders sagging


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

with distaste.


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.

Coyote Night


     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 

sneaking-up coyotes. 

Here there are no distant 

garbage trucks, 

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

nor send

Shakespearean Sonnet

     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

these roads—

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.























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