Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Aunts

The Aunts

By Joyce Sutphen

I like it when they get together
and talk in voices that sound
like apple trees and grape vines,

and some of them wear hats
and go to Arizona in the winter,
and they all like to play cards.

They will always be the ones
who say “It is time to go now,”
even as we linger at the door,

or stand by the waiting cars, they
remember someone—an uncle we
never knew—and sigh, all

of them together, like wind
in the oak trees behind the farm
where they grew up—a place

I remember—especially
the hen house and the soft
clucking that filled the sunlit yard.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Word That is a Prayer

The Word That Is a Prayer
By Ellery Akers

One thing you know when you say it:
all over the earth people are saying it with you;
a child blurting it out as the seizures take her,
a woman reciting it on a cot in a hospital.
What if you take a cab through the Tenderloin:
at a street light, a man in a wool cap,
yarn unraveling across his face, knocks at the window;
he says, Please.
By the time you hear what he’s saying,
the light changes, the cab pulls away,
and you don’t go back, though you know
someone just prayed to you the way you pray.
Please: a word so short
it could get lost in the air
as it floats up to God like the feather it is,
knocking and knocking, and finally
falling back to earth as rain,
as pellets of ice, soaking a black branch,
collecting in drains, leaching into the ground,
and you walk in that weather every day.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Stealing Lilacs

Stealing Lilacs

By Alice N. Persons

A guaranteed miracle,
it happens for two weeks each May,
this bounty of riches
where McMansion, trailer,
the humblest driveway
burst with color—pale lavender,
purple, darker plum—
and glorious scent.
This morning a battered station wagon
drew up on my street
and a very fat woman got out
and starting tearing branches
from my neighbor's tall old lilac—
grabbing, snapping stems, heaving
armloads of purple sprays
into her beater.
A tangle of kids' arms and legs
writhed in the car.
I almost opened the screen door
to say something,
but couldn't begrudge her theft,
or the impulse
to steal such beauty.
Just this once,
there is enough for everyone.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

To My Brother Miguel In Memoriam

To My Brother Miguel In Memoriam

By Cesar Vallejo

Brother, today I sit on the brick bench of the house,
where you make a bottomless emptiness.
I remember we used to play at this hour, and mama
caressed us: "But, sons..."

Now I go hide
as before, from all evening
lectures, and I trust you not to give me away.
Through the parlor, the vestibule, the corridors.
Later, you hide, and I do not give you away.
I remember we made ourselves cry,
brother, from so much laughing.

Miguel, you went into hiding
one night in August, toward dawn,
but, instead of chuckling, you were sad.
And the twin heart of those dead evenings
grew annoyed at not finding you. And now
a shadow falls on my soul.

Listen, brother, don't be late
coming out. All right? Mama might worry.

Monday, April 25, 2011

How to See Deer

How to See Deer

By Philip Booth

Forget roadside crossings.
Go nowhere with guns.
Go elsewhere your own way,

lonely and wanting. Or
stay and be early:
next to deep woods

inhabit old orchards.
All clearings promise.
Sunrise is good,

and fog before sun.
Expect nothing always;
find your luck slowly.

Wait out the windfall.
Take your good time
to learn to read ferns;

make like a turtle:
downhill toward slow water.
Instructed by heron,

drink the pure silence.
Be compassed by wind.
If you quiver like aspen

trust your quick nature:
let your ear teach you
which way to listen.

You've come to assume
protective color; now
colors reform to

new shapes in your eye.
You've learned by now
to wait without waiting;

as if it were dusk
look into light falling;
in deep relief

things even out. Be
careless of nothing. See
what you see.

Sunday, April 24, 2011



by Jane Kenyon

There's just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basketmaker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Singing in the Toyota

Singing in the Toyota

By David Etter

I've been booed in the shower,
put down on the patio, ridiculed at the beach,
but when I sing in the car,
I get nothing but approval:
big smiles from the dashboard,
handclaps from the windshield wipers,
cheers from the steering wheel.
Even though I'm no Sinatra,
no Nat King Cole of the tollways,
I can croon along on every song
the Delco radio serves up,
and when I get going good
on some old favorite,
like "I've Got You Under My Skin"
or maybe "Answer Me, My Love,"
I start to see my name in lights.
The face in the mirror is mine.
I have a captive audience.
And I can do me better than me.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Sonnet for 6 a.m.

Sonnet for six a.m.

By Colleen Barry

The sheets are white and rising, falling slow
and steady over bodies slack and bent,
our legs like gum. the night is dealt this blow—
how obvious, smooth—the careful breeze and scent
of rain on gutters, pavement, windows bare
and glowing chests undone by dawn are more
like sideways basins, open mouths in air
where tiny balmy sighs are caught, then pour
the shade of blue that deepens under eyes
like breathing—sleepy lover’s breath, ours, now—
it colors arms, the smalls of backs, our thighs,
this morning; softly starts a day with how
the heaped strain of yearning masses sleeps
while, apart, hushed, warm—it seeps.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

What I Believe

What I Believe

by Michael Blumenthal

I believe there is no justice,
but that cottongrass and bunchberry
grow on the mountain.

I believe that a scorpion's sting
will kill a man,
but that his wife will remarry.

I believe that, the older we get,
the weaker the body,
but the stronger the soul.

I believe that if you roll over at night
in an empty bed,
the air consoles you.

I believe that no one is spared
the darkness,
and no one gets all of it.

I believe we all drown eventually
in a sea of our making,
but that the land belongs to someone else.

I believe in destiny.
And I believe in free will.

I believe that, when all
the clocks break,
time goes on without them.

And I believe that whatever
pulls us under,
will do so gently.

so as not to disturb anyone,
so as not to interfere
with what we believe in.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011



By Christian Ward

Everything roosts
in something,

the nesting rain
tells me. Swans

stitch new habitats
out of the river

and reeds, the moon
moves in a sack

of sky. Conversations
huddle in the colour

coded nerves of a pay
phone. My baby son

rests his head against
my chest, the sound

of a bird that has travelled
far echoing in his breathing,

followed by rustling,
as if building shelter.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Art of Disappearing

The Art of Disappearing

By Naomi Shihab Nye

When they say Don't I know you?
say no.

When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
before answering.
Someone telling you in a loud voice
they once wrote a poem.
Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
Then reply.

If they say We should get together
say why?

It's not that you don't love them anymore.
You're trying to remember something
too important to forget.
Trees. The monastery bell at twilight.
Tell them you have a new project.
It will never be finished.

When someone recognizes you in a grocery store
nod briefly and become a cabbage.
When someone you haven't seen in ten years
appears at the door,
don't start singing him all your new songs.
You will never catch up.

Walk around feeling like a leaf.
Know you could tumble any second.
Then decide what to do with your time.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Beans and Franks

Beans and Franks

by Donald Hall

When Newberry's closed
in Franklin, New Hampshire—homely lime front
on Main Street, among the closed
storefronts of this mill town depressed
since nineteen twenty-nine;
with its lunch counter for beans and franks
and coleslaw; with its
bins of peanuts, counters of acrylic,
hair nets, underwear, workshirts,
marbled notebooks, Bic pens, plastic
toys, and cheap sneakers;
where Marjorie worked ten years at the iron
cash register, Alcibide
Monbouquet pushed a broom at night.
and Mr. Smith managed—
we learned that a man from Beverly
Hills owned it, who never saw
the streets of Franklin, New Hampshire,
and drew with a well-groomed hand
a line through "Franklin, New Hampshire."

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Prayer Chain

Prayer Chain

by Tim Nolan

My mother called to tell me
about an old classmate of mine who

was dying on the parish prayer chain—
or was very sick—or destitute—

or it had not worked out—the marriage—
or the kids were all on drugs—and

all the old mothers were praying intensely
for all the pain of their children

and for life—they were praying for life—
in their quiet rooms—sipping decaf coffee—

I bet they've been praying for me at times—
so I'll find my way—so I won't rob a bank—

I'll take them—the mystical prayers of old mothers—
it matters—all this patient and purposeful love.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

My Mother's Address Book


By Lyn Lifshin

With rubber bands
flecked with powder,
slack as the face of
a child who won't
eat. Almost half
the names crossed
out with a line,
Buzzy, darkened over
with a pencil, as if there
was a rush like some
one throwing a dead
relative's shoes and
wool dresses toward
the Salvation Army
baskets, someone
catching a train,
breathlessly, the
graphite black as
shining freight.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Are These My People?

Are These My People?

By Carl Mayfield

Sitting around the kitchen table,
legs crossed, listening to look-alike foreheads
remember how the tornado
forgot to kill them:

Yes we are going to the cellar again
so wipe that look off your face
and I don't want no heathen backtalk

Are these my people?
Yes, in both name and deed,
even though I drink store-bought whiskey.
We pass a cowlick around the table,
grin like fools on holiday,
our hearts circling unremarkable moons.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Drowning

The Drowning

By Alexis Orgera

He came home to us one afternoon,
came sopping wet and blue-lipped,
hugged the dog so hard
we couldn't pry them apart.
This is what my brother told us:

“When you die a port-wine stain lodges
behind your right eye like a migraine.
Your fingers are electric, lungs exploding stars.
And on the way down I saw Uncle Max floating by.”

Then my brother was quiet for an age
while we teetered on the living room couch
hoping he'd been given some special truth,
something to change us. When he spoke again,
my brother's eyes were buffed canaries.

“So when your body washes up,
it's on a beach with no shoreline.
Everyone's naked, saying, ‘Look how familiar this place is.’”
But my brother swore it resembled nothing.

He said, “Everyone just sits around with their eyes closed,
cross-legged, and they bask in grayness
while pieces of their bodies fall off•
First small parts. Toenails and earlobes.
Then hands and feet until all that's left is nubs

jabbing the sand. And there's music playing
high up on a black cliff of sky.
It's not like our music, “he said,

“but as if the whole world is a crying woman
who can't get out of whatever fix she's in.”

Then my brother fell asleep, arms around the dog.
And there we were, wondering while he slept
if my brother was a ghost or a superhero
or if he’s merely stumbled into some dumb luck
that would dote on him the rest of his life.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Praise Them

Praise Them

By Li-Young Lee

The birds don't alter space.
They reveal it. The sky
never fills with any
leftover flying. They leave
nothing to trace. It is our own
astonishment collects
in chill air. Be glad.
They equal their due
moment never begging,
and enter ours
without parting day. See
how three birds in a winter tree
make the tree barer.
Two fly away, and new rooms
open in December.
Give up what you guessed
about a whirring heart, the little
beaks and claws, their constant hunger.
We're the nervous ones.
If even one of our violent number
could be gentle
long enough that one of them
found it safe inside
our finally untroubled and untroubling gaze,
who wouldn't hear
what singing completes us?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Night Life

Night Life

By Wilda Morris

Here it’s not nursery toys
that come alive in the night
but clothes in the closet.
Your coveralls and my denim jacket
leap through the window
to rock on the porch swing.
They sidle over to the garden,
take nips from a bright red tomato
before joining neighbors
in a square dance.

One of your brown leather boots
gives a playful kick to my sneakers
which string along.
Didn’t you notice those footprints
leading out to the pasture?
All their eyes look skyward,
finding Cassiopeia’s Chair.
If the inside of your shoe is damp
in the morning, it may be milk
spilled from the Little Dipper.

Your Sunday suit slides
off the hanger, offers an arm
to my flowered silk dress
with the white lace collar.
They dine formally on prime rib
and baked potato, using our silver,
then waltz through the house.
Listen! Don’t you hear
the echo of Strauss?

Monday, April 11, 2011

American Gothic

American Gothic

By Michelle Boisseau

A child started to cough and didn't last
the night. Lightning razed the barn.
The gate rotted and livestock trampled
the mustard greens. In the hallways
of rooming houses they waited their turn

for the bathtub. May I put on a light?
Pass the potatoes, please.
When our great-grandparents, the merchants,
posed at their dry-goods counters
in darned stockings and remarkable mustaches,

it hadn't been invented yet. Sure, the sisters
in the kitchen laughed till they cried,
their raw hands clutching at each other,
when the rooster perched on the parlor window
to accompany Aunt Florence in a hymn,

but their smiles floated in the moment,
mild lightning bugs, not lightning
we would learn to aim with camera,
lipstick, and dentistry. In Collier's
a tidal wave of hair, coy tilt of the head

and there it was, the Great American Smile
with a Coca-Cola. Before long the President
was walking softly, carrying a big smile.
When you're smiling, let your smile
be your umbrella, chorus lines of teeth relayed

at the Picture Show, the mascot, a cheery mouse
who sang in a tin can. Around classrooms
teachers hung big grins of construction paper:
Dare to Dream. Reach for the Stars.
Roll out the big plans for this town. Big trucks,

big backhoes forging piles of yellow clay
with snappy signage. Our greatness,
began the Senator, our greatness. He
pushed up his sleeves at a stack of pancakes
and launched a grin like a rocket ship

and jets blinked across the sky. Rain fell.
Snow covered the roads and wind worked the fields
where once in a while a farmhouse crouched,
creaking and sighing, thin windows whistling
as someone looked out, provident and hardy.

Sunday, April 10, 2011



By Naomi Shihab Nye

These shriveled seeds we plant,
corn kernel, dried bean,
poke into loosened soil,
cover over with measured fingertips

These T-shirts we fold into
perfect white squares

These tortillas we slice and fry to crisp strips
This rich egg scrambled in a gray clay bowl

This bed whose covers I straighten
smoothing edges till blue quilt fits brown blanket
and nothing hangs out

This envelope I address
so the name balances like a cloud
in the center of sky

This page I type and retype
This table I dust till the scarred wood shines
This bundle of clothes I wash and hang and wash again
like flags we share, a country so close
no one needs to name it

The days are nouns: touch them
The hands are churches that worship the world

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Abandoned Farmhouse

"Abandoned Farmhouse"

by Ted Kooser

He was a big man, says the size of his shoes
on a pile of broken dishes by the house;
a tall man too, says the length of the bed
in an upstairs room; and a good, God-fearing man,
says the Bible with a broken back
on the floor below the window, dusty with sun;
but not a man for farming, say the fields
cluttered with boulders and the leaky barn.

A woman lived with him, says the bedroom wall
papered with lilacs and the kitchen shelves
covered with oilcloth, and they had a child,
says the sandbox made from a tractor tire.
Money was scarce, say the jars of plum preserves
and canned tomatoes sealed in the cellar hole.
And the winters cold, say the rags in the window frames.
It was lonely here, says the narrow country road.

Something went wrong, says the empty house
in the weed-choked yard. Stones in the fields
say he was not a farmer; the still-sealed jars
in the cellar say she left in a nervous haste.
And the child? Its toys are strewn in the yard
like branches after a storm-a rubber cow,
a rusty tractor with a broken plow,
a doll in overalls. Something went wrong, they say.

Friday, April 8, 2011

At the Door

At The Door
By David Wagoner

All actors look for them-the defining moments
When what a character does is what he is.
The script may say, He goes to the door
And exits or She goes out the door stage left.

But you see your fingers touching the doorknob,
Closing around it, turning it
As if by themselves. The latch slides
Out of the strike-plate, the door swings on its hinges,
And you're about to take that step
Over the threshold into a different light.

For the audience, you may simply be
Disappearing from the scene, yet in those few seconds
You can reach for the knob as the last object on earth
You wanted to touch. Or you can take it
Warmly like the hand your father offered
Once in forgiveness and afterward
Kept to himself.

Or you can stand there briefly, as bewildered
As by the door of a walk-in time-lock safe,
Stand there and stare
At the whole concept of shutness, like a rat
Whose maze has been rebaffled overnight,
Stand still and quiver, unable to turn
Around or go left or right.

Or you can grasp it with a sly, soundless discretion,
Open it inch by inch, testing each fraction
Of torque on the spindles, on tiptoe
Slip yourself through the upright slot
And press the lock-stile silently
Back into its frame.

Or you can use your shoulder
Or the hard heel of your shoe
And a leg-thrust to break it open.

Or you can approach the door as if accustomed
To having all barriers open by themselves.
You can wrench aside
This unauthorized interruption of your progress
And then leave it ajar
For others to do with as they may see fit.

Or you can stand at ease
And give the impression you can see through
This door or any door and have no need
To take your physical self to the other side.

Or you can turn the knob as if at last
Nothing could please you more, your body language
Filled with expectations of joy at where you're going,
Holding yourself momentarily in the posture
Of an awestruck pilgrim at the gate-though you know
You'll only be stepping out against the scrim
Or a wobbly flat daubed with a landscape,
A scribble of leaves, a hint of flowers,
The bare suggestion of a garden.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Photograph of Leopold Socha

"Photograph of Leopold Socha"

By Robert L. Penick

There was little heroic in your features.
You resembled more of Genet's
babyface than the angular features
of successful men, such as
Wallenberg and Schindler.
Thief, robber, sewer worker.
What chance did you see
in hiding those Jews?
Working in your tunnels you
could have forgotten them,
left them to starvation or
grenades tossed down manholes.

You said it was atonement
that kept you coming back,
risking lamppost gallows,
a firing squad for your family.
But why did you risk taking
the tattered Jewish prayerbook
from the ruins of the ghetto
to give to the poetess?
Why hold the seven-year-old
up to the sewer grate,
promising her she'd see
sunshine and flowers again?

You were a tough little Pole
with only courage to spare.

you remembered your crimes
but who remembered you?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The First Green of Spring

The First Green of Spring
David Budbill

Out walking in the swamp picking cowslip, marsh marigold,
this sweet first green of spring. Now sautéed in a pan melting
to a deeper green than ever they were alive, this green, this life,

harbinger of things to come. Now we sit at the table munching
on this message from the dawn which says we and the world
are alive again today, and this is the world’s birthday. And

even though we know we are growing old, we are dying, we
will never be young again, we also know we’re still right here
now, today, and, my oh my! don’t these greens taste good.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

An Observation

An Observation

By May Sarton

True gardeners cannot bear a glove
Between the sure touch and the tender root,
Must let their hands grow knotted as they move
With a rough sensitivity about
Under the earth, between the rock and shoot,
Never to bruise or wound the hidden fruit.
And so I watched my mother's hands grow scarred,
She who could heal the wounded plant or friend
With the same vulnerable yet rigorous love;
I minded once to see her beauty gnarled,
But now her truth is given me to live,
As I learn for myself we must be hard
To move among the tender with an open hand,
And to stay sensitive up to the end
Pay with some toughness for a gentle world.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Enigma We Answer By Living

The Enigma We Answer by Living
By Alison Hawthorne Deming

Einstein didn't speak as a child
waiting till a sentence formed and
emerged full-blown from his head.

I do the thing, he later wrote, which
nature drives me to do. Does a fish
know the water in which he swims?

This came up in conversation
with a man I met by chance,
friend of a friend of a friend,

who passed through town carrying
three specimen boxes of insects
he'd collected in the Grand Canyon—

one for mosquitoes, one for honeybees,
one for butterflies and skippers,
each lined up in a row, pinned and labeled,

tiny morphologic differences
revealing how adaptation
happened over time. The deeper down

he hiked, the older the rock
and the younger
the strategy for living in that place.

And in my dining room the universe
found its way into this man
bent on cataloguing each innovation,

though he knows it will all disappear—
the labels, the skippers, the canyon.
We agreed then, the old friends and the new,

that it's wrong to think people are a thing apart
from the whole, as if we'd sprung
from an idea out in space, rather than emerging

from the sequenced larval mess of creation
that binds us with the others,
all playing the endgame of a beautiful planet

that's made us want to name
each thing and try to tell
its story against the vanishing.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Charitable Deductions

Charitable Deductions

By Kate Bernadette Benedict

This is what I deduce:

That selfishness is born of deprivation.
That harsh words are the fearful’s bungled prayers.
That the gluttonous are starved,
the greedy cheated,
the lecher too unloved to hazard love.

Beneath the cold rock, the slug takes cover,
despised, unbeautiful,
spineless, lacking skeleton or shell.
Raise the rock:
it twirls its little feelers and shrugs itself,
innocent, tolerable, defenseless in the sudden light.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Not A Sparrow

Not a Sparrow

By Tess Gallagher

Just when I think the Buddhists
are wrong and life is not mostly suffering,
I find a dead finch near the feeder.
How sullen, how free of regret, this death
that sinks worlds. I bury her near
the bicycle shed and return to care for
my aged mother, whose suffering
is such oxygen we do not consider it,
meaning life at any point exceeds
the price. A little more. A little more.

That same afternoon, having restored balance,
I discover a junco fallen on its back, beak
to air, rain pelting the prospect. Does
my feeder tempt flight through windows?
And, despite evidence, do some
accomplish it?

Digging a hole for the second bird, I find
the first gone. If I don’t think “raccoons”
or “dogs,” I can have a quiet, unwitnessed
miracle. Not a feather remains.
In goes the junco. I swipe earth over it,
set a pot on top. Time
to admit the limitations of death as

Still, two dead birds in an afternoon
lets strange sky into the mind: birds flying
through windows, flying through
earth. Suffering must be like that too: equipped
with inexplicable escapes where the mind
watches the hand level dirt over the emptied grave
and, overpowered by the idea of wings,
keeps right on flying.