The World Has Need of You: Poems for Connection

In this time of pandemic—as we practice social distancing for the greater good—poetry remains abundant and available.

The following texts were gathered by our staff, from various home offices, in response to the question: “What can we offer our community in this time of crisis?” We can’t offer healthcare, rent payments, a cure, or even a hand to hold. Some of us can’t even find the stillness of mind to read much, let alone distill our own chaotic thoughts into wisdom. But we can share poems for people who want them, whether for balm, fuel, or a sense of connection, and we will continue to add to this collection in the weeks to come.

May you and your loved ones be safe and healthy. For as long as this crisis lasts and beyond, may these poems and others keep you company. Remember, as Ocean Vuong writes, “loneliness is still time spent with the world.”

Yours in Poetry,
The team at Copper Canyon Press

 

You, Reader, as I Imagine You
by Chase Twichell

Why is it awkward to acknowledge
each other’s presence here?

Who says we can’t meet in public,
can’t stop and sit together on a bench

and watch the dogs go by?
As a child, I looked for you

in books and sometimes sensed
you (reading what I was reading).

Even as a child I knew you would
someday come to this place to meet me.

 

All of Us All of Us
by Marianne Boruch

Anyone could stand in a kitchen, tiny
barbs of arrow sinking
in again. Whoever shot it good
missed the heart.

That’s the problem, isn’t it? The only partly.
Brave and pathetic the way we
walk away okay enough, and think things.

Something fated to be given, but not gotten.
Something dreamt never coming with, on waking.
No longer no longer no longer something.

It’s the repeat—how a car
can drive the same road home, years
the ruts, the standing water every spring.
It can make you sick because
you wanted to love it.

To keep the already said going,
to sit then rise again. And to
leave in the sink: the cup with a little coffee,
lettuce on a plate from lunch.
All of us, all of us.
Even anguish in such small things is
everyone singing.

 

Rain Light
by W.S Merwin

All day the stars watch from long ago
my mother said I am going now
when you are alone you will be all right
whether or not you know you will know
look at the old house in the dawn rain
all the flowers are forms of water
the sun reminds them through a white cloud
touches the patchwork spread on the hill
the washed colors of the afterlife
that lived there long before you were born
see how they wake without a question
even though the whole world is burning

 

The Current Isolationism
by Camille Rankine

In the half-light, I am most
at home, my shadow
as company.

When I feel hot, I push a button
to make it stop. I mean this stain on my mind
I can’t get out. How human

I seem. Like modern man,
I traffic in extinction. I have a gift.
Like an animal, I sustain.

A flock of birds
when touched, I scatter. I won’t approach
until the back is turned.

My heart betrays. I confess: I am afraid.
How selfish of me.
When there’s no one here, I halve

the distance between
our bodies infinitesimally.
In this long passageway, I pose

against the wallpaper, dig
my heels in, catch the light.
In my vision, the back door opens

on a garden that is always
in bloom. The dogs
are chained so they can’t attack like I know

they want to. In the next yard
over, honeybees swarm
and their sound is huge.

 

Anxiety
by Olav Hauge

There’s nervous energy in everything now: anxiety in
                   the sunlight,
anxiety in the stars, anxiety in the earth, anxiety
in the grass, the hornets’ nest, tension
in both men and women, friction
in cars, planes, and wires,
a charge in the stove,
the coffee pot,
the cat—
jolt, jolt, jolt,
there’s current
in everything one touches,
Olai claims.
That’s why he stands in rubber boots,
digging himself down
to the blue clay, the cold water.

 

Prayer
by Sarah Ruhl

Let the day open slow around you.
Let the night open slow around you.
Let the spring open slow
the fall open slow
the waking animals open their eyes slow
around you.
Let the night close slow around you.
Let the day close slow around you.
The winter close slow
the summer close slow
the sleeping animals close their eyes slow
around you.

 

Cloud Hands
by Arthur Sze

A woman moves through a Cloud Hands position,
                           holding and rotating

an invisible globe — thud, shattering glass, moan,
                           horn blast — so many

worlds to this world — two men dipnet
                           sockeye salmon

at the mouth of a river — from a rooftop, a seagull
                           squawks and cries;

a woman moves through Grasp the Bird’s Tail —
                           someone on a stretcher

is wheeled past glass doors — a desert fivespot
                           rises in a wash —

and, pressing her tongue to the roof
                           of her mouth,

she focuses, in the near distance, on the music
                           of sycamore leaves.

 

What Issa Heard
by David Budbill

Two hundred years ago Issa heard the morning birds
singing sutras to this suffering world.

I heard them too, this morning, which must mean,

since we will always have a suffering world,
we must also always have a song.

 

won’t you celebrate with me
by Lucille Clifton

won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

 

letter from my heart to my brain
by Rachel McKibbins

It’s okay to hang upside down
like a bat, to swim
into the deep end of silence,
to swallow every key
so you can’t get out.

It’s okay to hear the ocean
calling your fevered name,
to say your sorrow is an opera
of snakes, to flirt with sharp
& heartless things.

It’s okay to write,
I deserve everything!
To bow down
to this rotten thing
that understands you,
to adore the red
& ugly queen of it, admire
her calm & steady rowing.

It’s okay to lock yourself
in the medicine cabinet,
to drink all the wine,
to do what it takes
to stay without staying.

It’s okay to hate
God today, to change
his name to yours,
to want to ruin all
that ruined you.

It’s okay to feel
like only a photograph
of yourself, to need
a stranger to pull
your hair & pin you down,

it’s okay to want
your mother
as you lie alone
in bed.

It’s okay to brick
to fuck to flame
to church to crush
to knife to rock
& rock & rock
& rock
& rock & rock
& rock.

It’s okay to wave
goodbye to yourself
in the mirror.

To write, I don’t want anything.
It’s okay to despise
what you have inherited,
to feel dead
in a city of pulses.

It’s okay to be the whale
that never comes up
for air, to love best
the taste of your
own blood.

 

Who I Write For
by Vicente Aleixandre; Lewis Hyde, trans.

I

Historians and newsmen and people who are just
                curious ask me, Who am I writing for?

I’m not writing for the gentleman in the stuffy coat, or
                for his offended moustache, not even for the
                warning finger he raises in the sad ripples of
                music.

Not for the lady hidden in her carriage (her lorgnette
                sending its cold light through the
                windowpanes).

Perhaps I write for people who don’t read my poems.
                That woman.who dashes down the street as if
                she had to open the doors for the sunrise.

Or that old fellow nodding on a bench in the little park
                while the setting sun takes him with love,
                wraps him up and dissolves him, gently, in its
                light.

For everyone who doesn’t read my writing, all the
                people who don’t care about me (though they
                care for me, without knowing).

The little girl who glances my way as she passes, my
                companion on this adventure, living in the
                world.

And the old woman who sat in her doorway and
                watched life and bore many lives and many
                weary hands.

I write for the man who’s in love. For the man who
                walks by with his pain in his eyes. The man
                who listened to him. The man who looked
                away as he walked by. The man who finally
                collapsed when he asked his question and no
                one listened.

I write for all of them. I write, mostly, for the people
                who don’t read me. Each one and the whole
                crowd. For the breasts and the mouths and the ears, the
                ears that don’t listen, but keep my
                words alive.

II

But I also write for the murderer. For the man who shut
                his eyes and threw himself at somebody’s heart
                and ate death instead of food and got up crazy.

For the man who puffed himself up into a tower of rage
                and then collapsed on the world.
For the dead woman and the dead children and dying men.

For the person who quietly turned on the gas and
                destroyed the whole city and the sun rose on a
                pile of bodies.

For the innocent girl with her smile, her heart, her
                sweet medallion (and a plundering army went
                through there).

And for the plundering army that charged into the sea
                and sank.

And for the waters, for the infinite sea.

No, not infinite. For the finite sea that has boundaries
                almost like our own, like a breathing lung.

(At this point a little boy comes in, jumps in the water,
                and the sea, the heart of the sea, is in his
                pulse!)

And for the last look, the hopelessly limited Last Look,
                in whose arms someone falls asleep.

Everyone’s asleep. The murderer and the innocent
                victim, the boss and the baby, the damp and
                the dead, the dried-up old fig and the wild,
                bristling hair.

For the bully and the bullied, the good and the sad,
the voice with no substance
and all the substance of the world.

For you, the man with nothing that will turn into a god,
                who reads these words without desire.

For you and everything alive inside of you,
I write, and write.

 

from 13th Balloon
by Mark Bibbins

What was that trick
How did you do it

It was as if you’d unfolded a map
you’d secretly been drawing
for us all along       a map
of a new and radiant country
across which together we would
carry you as you died

///

In truth I don’t have that many
                            memories of you left
                            maybe enough
                            that were they spliced together
the result would be the length of a movie trailer
or if weighed
would weigh as much as an eggshell

I can remember some things you said
if not verbatim the tone the inflection
and whether they arrived through a phone line
or through the air
or whether you thought something
you were saying was funny
like the time near the end
when you told your favorite nurse
who was trying a new diet
that if she really wanted to lose
weight she should have sex with you
              C’mere lemme stick it in you
              you’ll lose thirty pounds real quick

We lived on a planet of disaster
We lived in a country of misery
We lived in a state of horror
We lived in a city of scandal
We lived in a house of daily dying
from which to distract ourselves
we sometimes embroidered
the filthiest jokes we could think up
on every available towel     pillowcase     sheet
I shouldn’t say it saved us
but in many ways it did

 

There is a Light in Me
by Anna Swir

Whether in daytime or in nighttime
I always carry inside
a light.
In the middle of noise and turmoil
I carry silence.
Always
I carry light and silence.

 

Duplex
by Jericho Brown

I begin with love, hoping to end there.
I don’t want to leave a messy corpse.

              I don’t want to leave a messy corpse
              Full of medicines that turn in the sun.

Some of my medicines turn in the sun.
Some of us don’t need hell to be good.

              Those who need most, need hell to be good.
              What are the symptoms of your sickness?

Here is one symptom of my sickness:
Men who love me are men who miss me.

              Men who leave me are men who miss me
              In the dream where I am an island.

In the dream where I am an island,
I grow green with hope. I’d like to end there.

 

8, from Lao-Tzu’s Taoteching
by Lao-Tzu; Red Pine (Bill Porter), trans.

The best are like water
bringing help to all
without competing
choosing what others avoid
they thus approach the Tao
dwelling with earth
thinking with depth
helping with kindness
speaking with honesty
governing with peace
working with skill
and moving with time
and because they don’t compete
they aren’t maligned

 

Fingers
by Ghassan Zaqtan; Fady Joudah, trans.

What’s that ringing in the brevity of silence,
delicate between destruction’s instant
and fire’s eruption?
Unrelenting and wise
fingers disassemble the horizon
into houses and send it back
to the beauty of dirt, iron, and people

Fingers that make the bed,
fold clothes, and organize photos
one garden at a time
so that peace may enter stone

 

Urgent Care
by Dana Levin

Having to make eye contact
              with the economy—

A ball cap that says
              In Dog Years I’m Dead—“The moon

will turn blood red and then
              disappear for a while,” the TV enthused.
                          Hunched

over an anatomy textbook, a student
              traces a heart

              over another heart—lunar eclipse.

In the bathroom, crayoned
              graffiti:
                          fuck the ♥

He collected captcha, one seat over,
              Mr. feverish Mange Denied:

like puzzling sabbath or
              street pupas; we shared

some recent typos: I’m
mediated
(his), my tiny bots

of stimulation, he
              loved the smudged

and swoony words that proved him
              human—

not a machine trying to infiltrate
              the servers

of the New York Times, from which he launched
(gad shakes or hefty lama)

obits and exposés, some recipes, a digital pic of
              someone else’s
              black disaster, he

lobbed links at both of his fathers (step and bio),
a few former lovers, a high school coach, a college
              chum, some people

“from where I used to work,” so much info
              (we both agreed), “The umbra,”

the TV explained, shadow
that Earth was about to make—

              …and if during the parenthesis they felt a
strange uneasiness…

              …firing rifles and clanging copper pots to
rescue the threatened…

              …so benighted and hopelessly lost…

              …their eyes to the errors…

MOON LORE, Farmers’ Almanac. Waiting room,
hour two.

Urgent Care. That was pretty
              multivalent. As in:

              We really need you to take care of this.
              We really need you

              to care for this.
              To care about this. We really need you

to peer through the clinic’s
              storefront window, on alert

              for the ballyhooed moon—

And there it was. Reddening

in its black sock, deep
              in the middle of the hour, of someone’s

              nutso-tinsel talk on splendor—

My fevered friend. Describing

the knocked-out flesh. Each of our heads
              fitting like a flash drive

              into the port of a healer’s hands.

 

Concerning Necessity
by Hayden Carruth

It’s quite true we live
in a kind of rural twilight
most of the time giving
our love to the hard dirt
the water and the weeds
and the difficult woods

heave the axe run the hand shovel
dig the potato patch
dig ashes dig gravel
tickle the dyspeptic chainsaw
make him snarl once more

while the henhouse needs cleaning
the fruitless corn to be cut
and the house is falling to pieces
the car coming apart
the boy sitting and complaining
about something everything anything

this was the world foreknown
though I had thought somehow
probably in the delusion
of that idiot Thoreau
that necessity could be saved
by the facts we actually have

like our extreme white birch
clasped in the hemlock’s arms
or our baybreasted nuthatch
or our mountain and our stars
and really these things do serve
a little though not enough

what saves the undoubted collapse
of the driven day and the year
is my coming all at once
when she is done in or footsore
or down asleep in the field
or telling a song to a child

coming and seeing her move
in some particular way
that makes me to fall in love
all over with human beauty
the beauty I can’t believe
right here where I live.

 

A Physics of Sudden Light
by Alberto Ríos

This is just about light, how suddenly
One comes upon it sometimes and is surprised.

In light, something is lifted.
That is the property of light,

And in it one weighs less.
A broad and wide leap of light

Encountered suddenly, for a moment–
You are not where you were

But you have not moved. It’s the moment
That startles you up out of dream,

But the other way around: It’s the moment, instead,
That startles you into dream, makes you

Close your eyes–that kind of light, the moment
For which, in our language, we have only

The word surprise, maybe a few others,
But not enough. The moment is regular

As with all the things regular
At the closing of the twentieth century:

A knowledge that electricity exists
Somewhere inside the walls;

That tonight the moon in some fashion will come out;
That cold water is good to drink.

The way taste slows a thing
On its way into the body.

Light, widened and slowed, so much of it: It
Cannot be swallowed into the mouth of the eye,

Into the throat of the pupil, there is
So much of it. But we let it in anyway,

Something in us knowing
The appropriate mechanism, the moment’s lever.

Light, the slow moment of everything fast.
Like hills, those slowest waves, light,

That slowest fire, all
Confusion, confusion here

One more part of clarity: In this light
You are not where you were but you have not moved.

 

Obscurity and Lockdown
by C.D. Wright

There was a spring at the top of the hill
water colder than it sounds once lying on his back
hands behind his head watching masses
of clouds push themselves around, once caught
a snake in the joe-pye weed about as big around
as an ankle monitor, once found a mess
of arrowheads above the calico bluffs; never minded
being by his own self, never minded his own
company; once he was a heller alright but he had
something, he had flow all by himself; once
he had a girl but this here wasn’t enough not that
anyone ever asked not that anyone ever would, what
was it exactly he thought he was missing he would tell them
what: he missed kissing bigtime he missed kissing

 

Poema 18, from Then Come Back
by Pablo Neruda; Forrest Gander, trans.

Comes back from his blaze, the fireman,
from his star the astronomer,
from his disastrous passion the obsessive,
from one million whatever the ambitious,
from the naval night the sailor,
the poet returns from his slabber,
the soldier from fear,
the fisherman from his wet heart,
the mother from Juanito’s fever,
the thief from his nighttime high,
the engineer from his frosted rose,
the native from his hunger,
the judge from fatigue and unsureness,
the jealous from his torment,
the dancer from her exhausted feet,
the architect from the three thousandth floor,
the pharaoh from his tenth life,
the hooker from her Lycra and falsies,
the hero comes back from oblivion,
the poor from another day gone,
the surgeon from staring down death,
the fighter from his pathetic contract,
someone returns from geometry,
stepping back from his infinity, the explorer,
the cook from her dirty dishes,
the novelist from a web of lies,
the hunter stamps out the fire and returns,
the adulterer from rapture and despair,
the professor from a glass of wine,
the schemer from his backstabbing,
the gardener has shuttered his rose,
the bartender stoppers his liquor,
the convict takes up his plea again,
the butcher washed his hands,
the nun quit her prayers,
the miner his slick tunnel,
and like the rest I take off my clothes,
inside the night of all men, I make
a smaller night for myself,
my woman joins me, silence bears down
and the dream spins the world again.

 

from Soft Targets
by Deborah Landau

Don’t blame the wisteria for setting off a feeling like freedom a feeling like joy.

We watched the people walking in the open square—

one of them was a specialist in killing, fear was the way of others.

I’ve seen the most extraordinary thing about people, their faces.

Remember the trees in springtime, we ate candy beneath them,

shouts from the playground, static of yellowjackets, your fresh new haircut.

Here’s a tweeted canto, some words for the end of the world—

for when I am forever nothing, and you are

(and you and you).

What we were for such a brief.

(M with the laundry, the dog at his bowl, the boys going at it out back.)

O you who want to slaughter us, we’ll be dead soon enough what’s the rush

and this our only world.

Now bring me a souvenir from the desecrated city,

something tender, something that might bloom.

 

Often I Imagine the Earth
by Dan Gerber

Often I imagine the earth
through the eyes of the atoms we’re made of—
atoms, peculiar
atoms everywhere—
no me, no you, no opinions,
no beginning, no middle, no end,
soaring together like those
ancient Chinese birds
hatched miraculously with only one wing,
helping each other fly home.

 

Visitor
by Brenda Shaughnessy

I am dreaming of a house just like this one

but larger and opener to the trees, nighter

than day and higher than noon, and you,

visiting, knocking to get in, hoping for icy

milk or hot tea or whatever it is you like.

For each night is a long drink in a short glass.

A drink of blacksound water, such a rush

and fall of lonesome no form can contain it.

And if it isn’t night yet, though I seem to

recall that it is, then it is not for everyone.

Did you receive my invitation? It is not

for everyone. Please come to my house

lit by leaf light. It’s like a book with bright

pages filled with flocks and glens and groves

and overlooked by Pan, that seductive satyr

in whom the fish is also cooked. A book that

took too long to read but minutes to unread—

that is—to forget. Strange are the pages

thus. Nothing but the hope of company.

I made too much pie in expectation. I was

hoping to sit with you in a treehouse in a

nightgown in a real way. Did you receive

my invitation? Written in haste, before

leaf blinked out, before the idea fully formed.

An idea like a stormcloud that does not spill

or arrive but moves silently in a direction.

Like a dark book in a long life with a vague

hope in a wood house with an open door.

 

Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong
by Ocean Vuong

Ocean, don’t be afraid.
The end of the road is so far ahead
it is already behind us.
Don’t worry. Your father is only your father
until one of you forgets. Like how the spine
won’t remember its wings
no matter how many times our knees
kiss the pavement. Ocean,
are you listening? The most beautiful part
of your body is wherever
your mother’s shadow falls.
Here’s the house with childhood
whittled down to a single red trip wire.
Don’t worry. Just call it horizon
& you’ll never reach it.
Here’s today. Jump. I promise it’s not
a lifeboat. Here’s the man
whose arms are wide enough to gather
your leaving. & here the moment,
just after the lights go out, when you can still see
the faint torch between his legs.
How you use it again & again
to find your own hands.
You asked for a second chance
& are given a mouth to empty out of.
Don’t be afraid, the gunfire
is only the sound of people
trying to live a little longer
& failing. Ocean. Ocean—
get up. The most beautiful part of your body
is where it’s headed. & remember,
loneliness is still time spent
with the world. Here’s
the room with everyone in it.
Your dead friends passing
through you like wind
through a wind chime. Here’s a desk
with the gimp leg & a brick
to make it last. Yes, here’s a room
so warm & blood-close,
I swear, you will wake—
& mistake these walls
for skin.

 

“Not many of them, it’s true”
by Gregory Orr

Not many of them, it’s true,
But certain poems
In an uncertain world—
The ones we cling to:

They bring us back
Always to the beloved
Whom we thought we’d lost.

As surely as if the words
Led her by the hand,
Brought him before us.

Certain poems
In an uncertain world.

 

The World Has Need of You
by Ellen Bass

                             everything here
                             seems to need us
                             —Rainer Maria Rilke

I can hardly imagine it
as I walk to the lighthouse, feeling the ancient
prayer of my arms swinging
in counterpoint to my feet.
Here I am, suspended
between the sidewalk and twilight,
the sky dimming so fast it seems alive.
What if you felt the invisible
tug between you and everything?
A boy on a bicycle rides by,
his white shirt open, flaring
behind him like wings.
It’s a hard time to be human. We know too much
and too little. Does the breeze need us?
The cliffs? The gulls?
If you’ve managed to do one good thing,
the ocean doesn’t care.
But when Newton’s apple fell toward the earth,
the earth, ever so slightly, fell
toward the apple.

 

Meditation on Transmission
by Dean Rader

This poem appeared originally in the San Francisco Chronicle on April 8, 2020.

The map on my
tv reddens the
way a wound
might spread
across skin,
here, the earth’s
blue body brutally
infected, its slim
shape shrunken
somehow huddled,
like a child waiting
to be picked up,
held, carried to its
bed and sung to sleep,
in its dreams, death
comes dressed as a
doorknob, a handle
on a bus, a button,
a bowl of nuts,
the sun-stroked
sky, a whisper, a kiss,
and it says breath
of my breath, and it
says take me inside
you, and it says,
teach me to multiply,
and the earth
says, Look, I am
living, and the
earth says, holocene
and the earth
says, if something
isn’t burning, it is
incubating, and
the waters do
not part, and
the sun does
not slide into
its black box,
and the stars
do not switch
off their light,
the rain does
not ask the
ocean for
water and yet
above a
chorus bristles
with birds about
their work
reminding
not everything
moving through
the air destroys.

 

Nobody Riding the Roads Today
by June Jordan

Nobody riding the roads today
But I hear the living rush
far away from my heart

Nobody meeting on the streets
But I rage from the crowded
overtones of emptiness

Nobody sleeping in my bed
But I breathe like windows
broken by emergencies

Nobody laughing anymore
But I see the world split
and twisted up like open stone

Nobody riding the roads today
But I hear the living rush
far away from my heart

 

Goshen
by Ruth Stone

For fifteen years I have lived in a house
without running water or furnace.
In and out the front door
with my buckets and armloads of wood.
This is the mountain.
This is the fortress of ice.
This is the stray cat skulking in the barn.
This is the barn with vacant windows
that lifts like a thin balsa kite
in the northeasters.
These are the winter birds
that wait in the bushes.
This is my measuring rod.
This is why I get up in the morning.
This is how I know where I am going.

 

A Poetics of Space
by Lisa Olstein

8. All These Constellations Are Yours

The ship dreams in terms of water.
Beautiful volume, the world stretches out.
Distant sails look like homing pigeons

whose wings once shone blue.
Little by little we take into our lungs
an echo. This is a way of saying

we do not see it start, yet it always starts
in the houses of the past, in the space of
elsewhere. We dream over a map,

desire describing a nation, a desert,
the plain or the plateau, the horizon
as much as the center. In the domain

under consideration, there are no young
forests. Honey in a hive is anything—
white nettle, blue sky. Space starts to dream

in the animal machine. Look in the eyes
of a trembling hare. The instant when
an animal that is all fear becomes lamb-like

calm is a proof: every atlas an absolute
elsewhere, the non-I woods,
the before-us forest.

 

from Vectors 3.0: Even More Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays
by James Richardson

If you can’t take the first step, take the second.

 

from Vectors 4.2—Otherwise: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays
by James Richardson

Faith is a kind of doubt… of everything else. And
doubt… believes deeply it can do without believing.

More moving than someone weeping: someone trying
not to.

Are these new storms, or has everything all together
reached the age of falling down?

 

from Vectors 5.1—Otherwise: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays
by James Richardson

I like having choices a lot better than using them.

 

Country Scene
by Hô Xuân Huong; John Balaban, trans.

The waterfall plunges in mist.
Who can describe this desolate scene:

the long white river sliding through
the emerald shadows of the ancient canopy

…a shepherd’s horn echoing in the valley,
fishnets stretched to dry on sandy flats.

A bell is tolling, fading, fading
just like love. Only poetry lasts.

 

In Praise of Noise
by James Arthur

              The sound begins with a furnace
clicking awake in a two-room house, answered
by a few, then more, voices: gauges,

and old-fashioned watches ticking out of sync, in growing number,
so their tip-tip-tip fattens to a moan, joined

by a horn’s upbeat honkity-honk, then ringtones and speakers
rehearsing drawn horsehair, air in a woodwind, or mimicking

a hand slapping a polyester drumhead, but unlike
              these coarser frictions, playing the same, every time.
A car door bangs, a jackhammer hammers, and a bassline

              purrs through a wall. The sound congeals,
sucking in more, a mechanical syrup in an IV drip, the automatic

              ruckus of a robotic ocean, a symphony
                            no one wrote, confounding every pattern:

teach me the song that no one can sing, someday
              to be the song of everything.

 

Masks
by Laura Kasischke

At the grocery store today—
these meteors and angels, wise men and all
the beautiful hallucinations of December, wearing
the masks of the Ordinary, the Annoyed, the Tired.
The Disturbed.
The Sane.

Only the recovering addict with his bucket and bell
has dared to come here without one.

He is Salvation.
His eyes have burned
holes in his radiance.
Instead of a mask, he has
unbuttoned his face.

 

Even all night long
by Jean Valentine

Even all night long while
the night train

pulls me on in my dream
like a needle

Even then, down in my bed
my hand across the sheet

anyone’s hand
my face anyone’s face

are held
and kissed

the water
the child

the friend
unlost.

 

On Visiting the Site of a Slave Massacre in Opelousas
by Roger Reeves

Grief, according to Dr. Johnson, is a species of idleness.
Then let me be idle—idle as one thousand orphaned oars,
vessel-less and beached in this cornfield, idle as a field
of black women underneath the hoof and boot of a swarm
of stallions robed in wedding gowns—not a bride among
them. I will mourn for what fails here—the deer, there,
dead in the ravine—the bees latching combs of honey
to its larynx, lungs, and breast. This is the idol of idle—
the bees harvesting honey in the good and rotting meat,
the drone’s body, still in the last pitches of pleasure, taken
from the queen’s chamber and cast from the hive by the workers—
the deer unaware of the work being done in its still body.
Sometimes, we entertain angels and violent strangers unawares.
You should know nothing you love will be spared. Mercy, yes mercy
is at the end of grief. It is somewhere between the deer’s body
collapsing on the hive and one thousand bees galloping
against one another’s needle-hung bodies in hopes of not being
the last to die. Isn’t that what we pray for: misery, anywhere but here?

 

from “I am a Miner. The Lights Burns Blue.”
by Victoria Chang

I am       thinking            about happiness again    how
you are in some         alternate orthography    perhaps  you
are the     raised bumps in braille       perhaps your  presence
allows       me to         examine the low   pressure area
the part that often       brings rain       without  the   clapping
and the       murmurs that    are you      how would I     see an
echo      as      anything      other than grieving        light is here but
it is    a complement       what is the sun but      a source of
light and     what is   light       but a wavelength     detectable by
the eye       light is not             happiness      I seek the underside
of you    the mossy         dark follicle side         light includes
everything     it is perfectly       bound          and because perfect
darkness is    impossible         to create       I seek it as an eye
seeks the         black         cavity of           another eye

 

Right Hand
by Ted Kooser

This old hand with which I am writing,
holding its pen and pecking its way
across the paper like a hen, has pulled me,
clucking with little discoveries,
across more than seventy years, a sometimes
muddy, sometimes frozen barnyard
where, looking back, it seems that every day
was rich with interest, both underfoot
and just an inch or two ahead of that.

 

Love in the Time of Swine Flu
by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Because we think I might have it,
you take the couch. I can count on one hand
the times we have ever slept apart
under the same roof in our five years,

and those usually involved something
much worse than this sort of impenetrable
cough, the general misery involved
with dopey nausea, these vague chills.

But this time, we can’t risk it—our small son
still breathes clear-light in the next room
and we can’t afford to be both laid
up on our backs with a box of tissues

at our sides. Especially now that I carry
a small grapefruit, a second son, inside me.
In bed, I fever for your strong calves,
your nightsong breath on my neck

and—depending where we end up—wrist
or knee. I fever for the slip of straps down
my shoulder, I fever for the prickled pain
of lip-bite and bed burn. You get up and come

back to bed. We decide it is worth it. I wish
my name meant wing. The child still forming
inside me fevers for quiet, the silence of the after,
the silence of cell-bloom within our blood.

 

For the First Crow with West Nile Virus to Arrive in Our State
by Lucia Perillo

For a long time you lay tipped on your side like a bicycle
but now your pedaling has stopped. Already
the mosquitoes have chugged their blisterful of blood
and flown on. Time moves forward,
no cause to weep, I keep reminding myself of this:
the body will accrue its symptoms. And the handbooks,
which warn us not to use the absolutes, are wrong:
the body will always accrue its symptoms.

But shouldn’t there also be some hatchlings within view:
sufficient birth to countervail the death?
At least a zero on the bottom line:
I’m not asking for black integers,
just for nature not to drive our balance into the dirt.

What should we utter over the broken glass that marks your grave?
The bird books give us mating calls but not too many death songs.
And whereas the Jews have their Kaddish and the Tibetans
have their strident prayers, all I’m impelled to do is sweet-talk
the barricades of heaven. Where you my vector
soar already, a sore thumb among the clouds.

Still I can see in the denuded maple one of last year’s nests
waiting to be filled again, a ragged mass of sticks.
Soon the splintered shells will fill it
as your new geeks claim the sky — any burgling
of bloodstreams starts when something yolky breaks.
And I write this as if language could give restitution for the breakage
or make you lift your head from its quilt of wayside trash.
Or retract the mosquito’s proboscis, but that’s language again,
whose five-dollar words not even can unmake you.

 

Under Construction
by Bob Hicok

I meant to be taller,
I tell my tailor, who tells my teller,
who cashes my check all in ones
to suit the height of my ambition.
And kinder, I tell my trainer,
who trains my tailor and my teller too
to look better wetter and drier, kinder
to people and blue skies, moles
and Republicans, even though
it takes more muscles to smile
than tell someone to fuck off.
I ask my tuner to listen to my head
and tell me whether it sounds out of sorts;
she says a man’s not a piano
and cries, for wouldn’t that be nice,
a man you can sit in front of
and play like Satie turning a piano
into a river speaking to its mother,
the rain, late at night. But she’s sweet,
my tuner, and tightens a few strings
in my back just to get the old tinka-tinka
up to snuff before she kisses me
on the cheek. Life. I think that’s
what this is, the glow
where she smacked her lips to my skin,
birds acting surprised that the sun
has sought them out once again,
and me looking in my closet
in the morning and choosing
the suit of snails
over the suit of armor.
Who remind me to slow,
to savor, as if they know.

 

Waking After Surgery
by Leila Chatti

And just like that, I was whole again,

seam like a drawing of an eyelid closed,
gauze resting atop it like a bed

of snow laid quietly in the night
while I was somewhere or something

else, not quite dead but nearly, freer,
my self unlatched for a while as if it were

a dog I had simply released from its leash
or a balloon slipped loose from my grip

in a room with a low ceiling, my life
bouncing back within reach, my life

bounding toward me when called.

 

mer · cy
by Alison C. Rollins

mer · cy n. 1a. An act of divine favor or compassion; b. as
in, ’twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land; c. ’twas
grace soft as death at my mother’s hands; d. a body on its
way from one house to another. 2a. A blessing; clemency;
b. as in, saying politely, I believe you have something of
mine;
c. as in, what a mother whispers to a tree branch; d.
as in, a razor blade that yields; e. the moon playing chicken
with the sun. 3a. A disposition to be kind and forgiving; b.
as in, a prayer for sinners now and at the hour of death; c. as
in, ’twas Jill playing jacks on the Hill; d. as in, mind over
matter. 4a. Something for which to be thankful; b. as in,
a passing ship; c. a called game; d. enough food and a doorknob;
e. a few teeth left. 5a. Charitable treatment; b. as in, right
before the fall; c. as in, ain’t none of us truly free; d. we is all
at the mercy of time.

 

Geo-Bestiary: 34
by Jim Harrison

Not how many different birds I’ve seen
but how many have seen me,
letting the event go unremarked
except for the quietest sense of malevolence,
dead quiet, then restarting their lives
after fear, not with song, which is reserved
for lovers, but the harsh and quizzical
chatter with which we all get by:
but if she or he passes by and the need
is felt we hear the music that transcends all fear,
and sometimes the simpler songs that greet sunrise,
rain or twilight. Here I am.
They sing what and where they are.

 

Ceasing to Be
by Matthew Zapruder

The idea is simple. Lucretius wanted to rid
the world of death fear by writing
On the Nature of Things. He says we fear
death only believing the mind somehow
continues even after the skull that holds it
is broken and harmless vapor leaks out
into everything dissolving. It’s
true I fear my death, but I fear
the death of others more, because that’s
a death without death through which
I must live. Or I fear my death
for the death others will have to live through
without me. That and probably pain
are why people are afraid. Anyway a world
without death fear would be even more scary.
Not that it matters. Death and fear. One
hand of steel, one of gold. Even you
wouldn’t know which to cut off or reach
out for first, Lucretius, because it is always
very dark here in the future.

 

Spring
by Jenny George

Speckled egg, brown egg, or sky blue with black marks—

Having broken once, the world re-forms
in miniature.
Over and over, in the nest
between two limbs; in the hollow of grass
at a marsh edge.

It’s relentless, the way it keeps trying
to return.
Joy
Joy
Joy

 

Rest
by Richard Jones

It’s so late I could cut my lights
and drive the next fifty miles
of empty interstate
by starlight,
flying along in a dream,
countryside alive with shapes and shadows,
but exit ramps lined
with eighteen-wheelers
and truckers sleeping in their cabs
make me consider pulling into a rest stop
and closing my eyes. I’ve done it in the past,
parking next to a family sleeping in a Chevy,
mom and dad up front, three kids in the back,
the windows slightly misted by the sleepers’ breath.
But instead of resting, I’d smoke a cigarette,
play the radio low, and keep watch over
the wayfarers in the car next to me,
a strange paternal concern
and compassion for their well-being
rising up inside me.
This was before
I had children of my own,
and first felt the sharp edge of love
and anxiety whenever I tiptoed
into darkened rooms of sleep
to study the peaceful faces
of my beloved darlings. Now,
on lonely nights like this,
the fatherly feelings are so strong
the snoring truckers are lucky
I’m not standing on the running board,
tapping on the window,
asking, Is everything okay?
But it is. Everything’s fine.
The trucks are all together, sleeping
on the gravel shoulders of exit ramps,
and the crowded rest stop I’m driving by
is a perfect oasis in the moonlight.
The way I see it, I’ve got a second wind
and an all-night country station on the radio.
Nothing for me to do on this road
but drive and give thanks:
I’ll be home by dawn.

 

Everybody Has a Fatal Disease
by Heather McHugh

*

In the night, while it’s quiet, I run
some lips across its ribs, some eyeteeth over
knucklebones, some mind downspine.
*

The saddest dog alive could still feel love. If you must
feel a feeling, that one’s fine. And if you want,
there’s a refinement: feeling transitive.
*

How comfort one another,
entre nous,
and never smother.
*

Animals feel love, and then
a want is born. To feel the want
can lead to wanting feels. Some kind
of blind comparative. Comparative
of kind. (Forget superlative, that
cloying fiction: it’s the index
we are always
losing touches with,
and wasting touches on.)
*

For life, o life! The time-honored
condition. (Has living any
precondition?
Is it any?)
Moments aren’t
repeatable. But do endure.

May I take
pictures of
your poor, afflicted
pelt? I am a well-
meaning American.
*

Life/death:
are you insured?
It’s mutual.
*

From what is hard
to parse, or to control, or be
unimplicated by,
instinctively the lookers
turn their eyes.
The blind man has more sense.
*

The terror in the mirror tells
of being watched. The first gaze ever met was made
a double present of. A self’s a sort
of obstacle to vision.
*

Absurd? You hear?
*

To feel
(for one’s own
self) one feels out
others. But with
different feelers now.
We once felt smothered, so
we have become the smotherers.

It is the counterpart of
daddy’s war. This time
this is THE life, we swear.
(But life’s a mother.)
*

Of predicaments it is
the father, too. (The DNA of
the indictment: every creature
choked with feeling.)
Life the law, the Logos.
Uncommuted! Life
the sentence.
*

Come
to grips!
Look here. Look
here! or else
I cannot read your lips.

 

Not This
by Olena Kalytiak Davis

my god all the days we have lived thru
saying

not this
one, not this,
not now,
not yet, this week
doesn’t count, was lost, this month
was shit, what a year, it sucked,
it flew, that decade was for
what? i raised my kids, they
grew i lost two pasts—i am
not made of them and they
are through.

we forget what
we remember:

each of the five
the fevered few

days we used
to fall in love.

 

Slow Song for Mark Rothko
by John Taggart

1

To breathe and stretch one’s arms again
to breathe through the mouth to breathe to
breathe through the mouth to utter in
the most quiet way not to whisper not to whisper
to breathe through the mouth in the most quiet way to
breathe to sing to breathe to sing to breathe
to sing the most quiet way.

To sing to light the most quiet light in darkness
radiantia radiantia singing light in darkness.

To sing as the host sings in his house.

To breathe through the mouth to breathe through the
mouth to breathe to sing to
sing in the most quiet way to
sing the seeds in the earth breathe forth
not to whisper the seeds not to whisper in the earth
to sing the seeds in the earth the most quiet way to
sing the seeds in the earth breathe forth.

To sing to light the most quiet light in darkness
radiant light of seeds in the earth
singing light in the darkness.

To sing as the host sings in his house.

To breathe through the mouth to breathe to sing
in the most quiet way not to
whisper the seeds in the earth breathe forth
to sing totality of the seeds not to eat to
sing the seeds in the earth to
be at ease to sing totality totality
to sing to be at ease.

To sing to light the most quiet light in darkness
be at ease with radiant seeds
with singing light in darkness.

To sing as the host sings in his house.

2

To breathe and stretch one’s arms again
to stretch to stretch to straighten to stretch to
rise to stretch to straighten to rise
to full height not to torture not to torture to
rise to full height to give to hold out to
to give the hand to hold out the hand
to give to hold out to.

To give self-lighted flowers in the darkness
fiery saxifrage
to hold out self-lighted flowers in darkness.

To give as the host gives in his house.

To stretch to stretch to straighten to stretch to
rise to full height not to torture not to
to rise to give to hold out to
give the hand to hold out the hand to give
hope hope of hope of perfect hope of perfect rest
to give hope of perfect rest
to give to hold out to.

To give self-lighted flowers in the darkness
perfect and fiery hope
to hold out lighted flowers in darkness.

To give as the host gives in his house.

To stretch to stretch to straighten to stretch to
rise to full height not to torture to
give the hand to hold out the hand to
give hope to give hope of perfect rest to r
est not to lay flat not to lay out
to rest as seeds as seeds in the earth
to give rest to hold out to.

To give self-lighted flowers in the darkness
fiery hope of perfect rest
to hold out light flowers in darkness.

To give as the host gives in his house.

3

To breathe and stretch one’s arms again
to join arm in arm to join arm in arm to
join to take to take into
to join to take into a state of intimacy
not in anger not in anger
to join arm in arm to join arms
to take into intimacy.

To take into the light in the darkness
into the excited phosphor
to be in light in the darkness.

To take as the host takes into his house.

To join arm in arm to join arm in arm to
join to take to take into
to join to take into a state of intimacy
not anger not anger \
to take as the earth takes seeds as
the poor the poor must be taken into
to take into intimacy.

To take into the light in the darkness
into the phosphor star-flowers
to be in the light in the darkness.

To take as the host takes into his house.

To join arm in arm to join arm in arm to
join arms to take to take into a state of intimacy
not anger
to take as the earth takes seeds as
the poor must be taken into
to end the silence and the solitude
to take into intimacy.

To take into the light in the darkness
into star-flowers before sunrise
to be in light in the darkness.

To take as the host takes into his house.

 

Find the Poets
by Tishani Doshi

I arrived in a foreign land yesterday,
a land that has seen troubles,
(who hasn’t, you might say?).
This land
with its scrubbed white houses
and blue seas, where everything was born,
and now, everything seems as if it could vanish—
I wanted to find out the truth
about how a great land like this
could allow ancient columns to crumble
and organ grinders to disappear.
Find the poets, my friend said.
If you want to know the truth, find the poets.
But friend, where do I find the poets?
In the soccer fields,
at the sea shore,
in the bars,
drinking?
Where do the poets live these days,
and what do they sing about?
I looked for them in the streets of Athens,
at the flea market and by the train station,
I thought one of them might have sold me a pair of sandals.
But he did not speak to me of poetry,
only of his struggles, of how his house was taken
from him, of all the dangers his children must now
be brave enough to face.
Find the poets, my friend said.
They will not speak of the things you and I speak about.
They will not speak of economic integration
or fiscal consolidation.
They could not tell you anything
about the burden of adjustment.
But they could sit you down
and tell you how poems are born in silence
and sometimes, in moments of great noise;
of how they arrive like the rain,
unexpectedly cracking open the sky.
They will talk of love, of course,
as if it were the only thing that mattered,
about chestnut trees and mountain tops,
and how much they miss their dead fathers.
They will talk as they have been talking
for centuries, about holding the throat of life,
till all the sunsets and lies are choked out,
till only the bones of truth remain.
The poets, my friend, are where they have always been—
living in paper houses along rivers
and in forests that are disappearing.
And while you and I go on with life
remembering and forgetting,
the poets remain: singing, singing.