Saturday, November 17, 2007


Some Title Poems from Collections

"The Niagara River"

As though
the river were
a floor, we position
our table and chairs
upon it, eat, and
have conversations.
As it moves along,
we notice -- as
calmly as though
dining room paintings
were being replaced --
the changing scenes
along the shore. We
do know, we do
know this is the
Niagara River, but
it is hard to remember
what that means.

-- Kay Ryan
The Niagara River, Grove Press, 2005

* * *

"Days and Nights of the Blue Iguana"

One day when you and I
have gone our separate ways,
we will remember
the days and nights of the blue iguana.
And how the rain came down
at five in the morning
like white curtains of voile over the hills,
and how the red immortelle exploded in the valleys,
and how we laughed and laughed.

One day, when you and I
have unpacked in different cities,
and divided our books correctly,
we will remember how we drank coffee
on the verandah, and how
the blue iguana crept along the wall,
and stretching its long neck
performed its graceful toilette.
And how we laughed and laughed.

One day, when you and I
have gone our separate ways,
we will remember.

--Heather Royes
Days and Nights of the Blue Iguana, Peepal Tree Press, Ltd., 2005

* * *

"The Voice at 3:00 A. M."

Who put canned laughter
Into my crucifixion scene?

--Charles Simic
The Voice at 3:00 A. M.: Selected Late and New Poems, Harcourt, Inc., 2003

* * *



Barnacles cinch
Sea-battered pilings
Dog whelks maraud in mud
How the North Atlantic
Wrangles the rocks!
Above, the houses of the fishermen
Look matchstick but are fierce.
They hold to the skittish boulders with all their might.
Next door, in the wired-off
Graveyard of the cove,
The headstones lean aslant,
Scripture pages thumbed down by the wind.
Below them the ocean
Seethes and scathes all day,
All night, and the spray
Smokes where it slaps the shore.
Tide pools boil with foam.

On coastlines you realize
What world will last.
See how the lean light
Glances against granite.
Erosion gorges the coastline out,
Nibbles the gaps.
You feel a shiver in
The ocena's memory.


What if this coastal road, these roofs
Vivid against the ocean, these
Steeples and these gas
Stations, what if these docks and piers and
Marinas, these tough
White houses with their windowboxes,
Stood only in the minute's multitude?
What if each minute made its universe?
What if in our hands we held our world
Breakable and rainbow-velveted as mere
Wobbling bubbles that our children blow?
I feel my skin, I feel my face,
Yield to the light as coastlines yield,
Accepting the loving
Phosphorence of daylight's
Demarcation. I feel
The viiolance of all its delicacy.


Coastlines are where our opposites ignite
And no one can say, After all, it's all right.
Coastlines are where your father and your mother
Turn without a word forever from each other.
Coastlines are where the quick-footed sun
Touches Ultima Thule and can no longer run.
Coastlines are where we learn the ocean's tragedy:
Incessant endeavour, incessant panoply,
Broken down to crumbs of nothingness
And yet we want to bless
Each ragged repetition of the waves --

So inconsolable, so close to us.

--Eric Ormsby
Coastlines, ECW Press, 1992

* * *

"Chosen by the Lion"

I am the one chosen by the lion at sundown
and dragged back from the shining water.
Yanked back to bushes and torn open, blood
blazing t the throat and breat of me.
taken as meat. Devoured as spirit by spirit.
The others will return quickly to drink again
peacefully, but for me now there is only faith.
Only the fact that the tall windows I lived
with were left uncovered halfway up.
And the silence of those days I lived there
which were marked by your arrivals like
stations on a long journey. You write to say
you love me and lie awake in stillness
to avoid the pain. I remember looking
at you from within at the last moment,
with faith like a gift handkerchief, delicate
and almost fragile. This is the final thing.
Purity and faith, power and blood. Is there
nothing to see? Not memory even of forgetting?
Only the body eating the body? what of faith
when it meets death, being when it is hard
to account for? the nipples you bit
and the body you possessed lie buried in you.
My faith shines as the moon in darkness
on water, as the sky in the day. does it hover
in the air around you? does it come like
a flower in your groin? Or is it like before
when you were alone and about to fall asleep
saying out loud in the darkness, "Linda,"
and hearing me answer immediately, "Yes!'

-- Linda Gregg
Chosen by the Lion, Graywolf Press, 1994

* * *

"Weather Central"

Each evening at six-fifteen, the weatherman
turns a shoulder to us, extends his hand,
and talking softly as a groom, cautiously
smmoths and strokes the massive, dappled flank
of the continent, touching the cloudy whorls
that drift like galaxies across its hide,
tracing the loops of harness with their barbs
and bells and pennants; then, with a horsefly's touch,
he brushes a mountain range and sets a shudder
running just under the skin. His bearing
is cavalier from years of success and he laughs
at the science, yet makes no sudden moves
that might startle that splendid order
or loosen the physics. One would not want to wake
the enormous Appaloosa mare of weather,
asleep in her stall on a peaceful moonlit night.

-- Ted Kooser
--Weather Central, University of Pittsburg Press, 1994

* * *

"Café Alibi"

If I were ever contracted to
design a proper café
I'd begin with foreign girls
whose every nuance would describe

the right way to hold a milky coffee,
allow exhaled nicotine to look
more Fleming than Le Carré --
by which I mean, exotic romance

over ambiguity. Regulars crave
excuses to sit long hours, spying
good students at studying: slim,
sun-changed, wonderfully-legged

and in twos and threes, at tables
stacked with books and biros,
representing human perfectibility,
the losses an eye would endure

unable to decamp here awhile,
glimpsing a blonde smile, or
a brunette stir her Earl Grey.
While at the zinc, a hired dropout

muses on his fallen state, denied
heaven's front gate, though able
to wait upon talented treats,
the summer sweets under glass.

--Todd Swift
Café Alibi, DC Books, 2002

* * *

"Mother Jackson Murders the Moon"

Mother Jackson
sees the moon coming at her
and slams the door of her shack
so hard
the tin louvres shudder with eagerness
to let the moon in.
If she should cry for help
the dog would skin its teeth at her,
the cat would hoist its tail
and pin the whole moonlit sky to the gutter.
The neighbours would maybe
douse her in chicken blood
and hang her skin out to dry
on the packy tree.

Mother Jackson
swallows her bile and sprinkles oil
from the kitchen bitch on her ragged mattress.
Then she lights a firestick
and waits for the moon to take her.

-- Gloria Escoffery
Mother Jackson Murders the Moon, Peepal Tree Press Ltd., 1998

* * *

"An Early Afterlife"

" . . . a wise man in time of peace, shall make the necessary preparations for war."
-- Horace

Why don't we say good-bye right now
in the fallacy of perfect health
before whatever is going to happen
happens. we could perfect our parting,
like those characters in On the Beach
who said farewell in the shadow
of the bomb as we sat watching,
young and holding hands at the movies.
we could use the loving words
we otherwise might not have time to say.
We could hold each other for hours
in a quintessential dress rehearsal.

Then we would just continue
for however many years were left.
The ragged things that are coming next --
arteries closing like rivers silting over
or rampant cells stampeding us to the exit --
would be like postscripts to our lives
and wouldn't matter. and we would bask
in an early afterlife of ordinary days,
impervious to the inclement weather
already in our long-range forecast.
Nothing could touch us. we'd never
have to say good-bye again.

-- Linda Pastan
An Early Afterlife, W. W. Norton & Company, 1995

* * *

"Company of Moths"

We thought it could all be found in The Book of Poor Text,
the shadow the boat casts, angled mast, fretted wake, indigo eye.

Windows of the blind text,
keening, parabolic nights.

and the rolling sun, sun tumbling
into then under, company of moths.

can you hear what I'm thinking, form there, even as you sleep?
Streets of the Poor Text, where a child's gaze falls

on the corpse of a horse beside a cart,
whimpering dog, woman's mute mouth agape

as if to say, We must move on,
we must not stop, we must not watch.

For after all, do the dead watch us?
to memorize precisely the tint of a plum,

curse of a body at rest (sun again),
the words to each popular song,

surely that would be enough.
For are you not familiar with these crows by the shore?

did you not call them sea crows once?
did we not discuss the meaning of "as the crow flies"

one day in that square -- station of exile -- under the reddest
of suns? and then, almost as one, we said, It's time.

And a plate shattered, a spoon fellto the floor,
towels in a heap by the door.

Drifts of cloud over
steeples from the west.

Faith in the Poor Text.
Outline of stuff left behind.

-- Michale Palmer
Company of Moths, New Directions, 2005

* * *


Had I met you when I was a girl, all bony laughter and ragged sighs, I would
have fallen under your shadow, knelt in the grass, been your weed, your
bride. and had I met you when I was another man's wife -- still young, hair
full of flame -- I'd have taken the spell for a sign. I'd have been jewel to your
thief, little sin, and never forgiven myself for that kiss. Or had I met you
in the early wind of my solitude, I might have snapped. Cracked like that
naked branch I swung from all those aching, brilliant nights. Instead, you
came late, you came after I'd made myself into harbor and chalice and wick.
MOre like the ashes than any warm hearth. More like a widow than wanton,
beloved. And you lifted me over the wall of the garden and carried me back
to my life.

-- Cecilia Woloch
Late, BOA Editions, Ltd., 2003

* * *

"The Night Abraham Called to the Stars"

Do you remember the night Abraham first called
To the stars? He cried to Saturn: "You are my Lord!"
How happy he was! When he saw the Dawn Star,

He cried, "You are my Lord!" How destroyed he was
When he watched them set. Friends, he is like us:
We take as our Lord the stars that go down.

We are faithful companions to the unfaithful stars.
We are diggers, like badgers; we love to feel
The dirt flying out from behind our hind claws.

And no one can convince us that mud is not
Beautiful. It is our badger soul that thinks so.
We are ready to spend the rest of our life

Walking with muddy shoes in the wet fields.
We resemble exiles in the kingdom of the serpent.
We stand in the onion fields looking up at the night.

My heart is a calm potato by day, and a weeping,
Abandoned woman by night. Friend, tell me what to do,
Since I am a man in love with the setting starts.

--Robert Bly
The Night Abraham Called to the Stars, HarperCollins Publishers, 2001

* * *

"Home of Sudden Service"

The last year of high school, I got a job
as a pizza delivery person, drove burning hot
stacks of Hawaiian-with-extra-cheese around
all night in my Volkswagen Rabbit. The radio
always playing something like "Smoke
on the Water" or "Crazy on You," and I smoked
so many cigarettes my pointer finger started
turning really yellow. after a while, they let me work
in the kitchen too. Squirting bottles of sweet
tomato sauce onto discs of dough.
I quit that place for the coffee shop with
the medical/dental and got an apartment
with angel right away, which was about time.
The first month, we made love
in every room. I worked my ass
off in the coffee shop and got myself promoted
to shift supervisor after only four months;
Angel got on full-time at the shop.
So I got my Dogwood and I got pregnant.
didn't seem to be any reason not to, especially
with the mat leave, and we weren't wrong.
Cole's three-and-a-half now. I have to leave him
with Mom on the days I go to work.
I try to get a lot of early shifts so I can spend
nights with angel and Cole, but it's hard.
There aren't that many supervisors at the shop,
so I have to work a lot of nightsd anyway.
It's a lot of responsibility. On my days off
I take Cole to visit his dad at work.
Cole loves a truck up on a jack.
Whenever we show up, we wait for Angel
in the office. There's a sign out front that reads
Home of Sudden Service, but sometimes
it takes him a while to notice us.
When he looks out from under the truck
and sees us, though, he gives
us this shy kind of smile, as if we're his secret
and heat passes through my body like a wave.
Sometimes I think he's still getting used
to the idea of us. when he comes home, he's filthy,
but I love the smell of him, he smells like my father
used to when he came home from work.
I don't know . . . is that fucked up? I don't think so.

-- Elizabeth Bachinsky
Home of sudden Service, Nightwood Editions, 2006

* * *

"If I Had Wheels or Love"
Chiefly for Joanne Avinger

I could make prayers or poems on and on,
Relax or labor all the summer day,
If I had wheels or love, I would be gone.

Spinning along the roadsides into dawn,
Feeling the flesh of lovers whom I'd lay
I could make prayers or poems on and on.

Whistling the hours by me as they drone,
Kissed on my breast and belly where I'd play
If I had wheels or love, I would be gone.

Over the next horizon toward the sun,
Deep in the shodows where I found the way
I could make prayers or poems on and on.

Along the country backroads flower-strewn,
Fondling your flanks, my dear, made clouds from clay.
If I had wheels or love, I would be gone.

Cool as the evening is and soft as fawn,
Warm as my fiddling fingers when they say
I could make prayers or poems onand on.
IIf I had wheels or love, I would be gone.

-- Vassar Miller
If I Had Wheels or Love: Collected Poems of Vassar Miller, Southern Methodist University Press, 1991

* * *

"Go Leaving Strange"

You sit watching hounds go leaving strange,
their nails clicking swift on the wooden floor
as they slide like narrow smoke away.
What's out there is anyone's child or beast.
They know. They have the smell on them.
You see it move in folds, the slcck jowl
flutters pink and the tooth comes down
cutting stiff and the ear upraised. The door
is one way of knowing the world's gone wrong.
You let the hounds out and they go leaving strange,
even the one you call Slip tracking quick
on the heels of his wretched dam without a sound.
When a hound goes quiet into the night
you wonder. Head down and the long ears
lifting scent into the nose, she leads, he follows,
the young ones coming last, the little one
jumping vertical to see what he can't smell.
Hounds run silent till they catch the spoor.
It's why you close the door
and when your woman asks what's wrong, say
nothing, the sky inventing clouds
where no clouds are, the light in the thin pines
turning pale and the hounds lost in their steady run.

-- Patrick Lane
Go Leaving Strange, Harbour Publishing, 2004

* * *

"The Simple Truth"

I bought a dollar and a half's worth of small red potatoes,
took them home, boiled them in their jackets
and ate them for dinner with a little butter and salt.
then I walked through the dried fields
on the edge of town. In middle June the light
hung on in the dark furrows at my feet,
and in the mountain oaks overhead the birds
were gathering for the night, the jays and mockers
squawking back and forth, the finches still darting
into the dusty light. The woman who sold me
the potatoes was from Poland; she was someone
out of my childhood in a pink spangled sweater and sunglasses
praising the perfection of all her fruits and vegetables
at the roadside stand and urging me to taste
even the pale, raw sweet corn trucked all the way,
she swore, from New Jersey. "eat, eat," she said,
"Even if you don't I'll say you did."
Some things
you know all your life. they are so simple and true
they must be said without elegance, meter and rhyme,
they must be laid on the table beside the salt shaker,
the glass of water, the absence of light gathering
in the shadows of picture frames, they must be

naked and alone, they must stand for themselves.
My friend Henri and I arrived at this together in 1965
before I went away, before he began to kill himself,
and the two of us to betray our love. Can you taste
what I'm saying? It is onions or potatoes, a pinch
of simple salt, the wealth of melting butter, it is obvious
it stays in the back of your throat like a truth
you never uttered because the time was always wrong,
it stays there for the rest of your life, unspoken,
made of that dirt we call earth, the metal we call salt,
in a form we have no words for, and you live on it.

--Philip Levine
The Simple Truth, Alfred A. Knopf, 2002

* * *

"Happy Family"

In Chinatown, we order Happy Family,
the Specialty of the House.
The table set; red paper placemats
inscribed with the Chinese zodiac.
My husband's an ox; my daughter's
a dragon, hungry and cranky; I'm a pig.
The stars will tell us whether
we at this table are compatible.

The waiter vanishes into the kitchen.
Tea steeps in the metal teapot.
My husband plays with his napkin.
In the booth behind him sits a couple
necking, apparently in love.

Every Saturday night after work,
my mother ordered takeout from the Hong Kong,
the only Chinese restaurant in town.
She filled the teakettle.
By the time it boiled,
the table was set, minus knives and forks,
and my father had fetched the big brown paper bag
leaking grease: five shiny white food cartons stacked inside.

My littel sister and I unpcked the food,
unsheathed the wooden chopsticks -- siamese twins joined at the shoulders --
whcih we snapped apart.
Thirteen years old, moody, brooding,
daydreaming about boys,
I ate and ate safe chop suey,
bland Cantonese shrimp,
moo goo gai pan, and egg foo yung.

My mother somber, my father drained,
too exhausted from work to talk,
as if the clicking chopsticks
were knitting something in their mouths.
My mother put hers aside
and picked at her shrimp with a fork.
She dunked a Lipton teabag in her cup
until the hot water turned rusty,
refusing the Hong Kong's complimentary tea,
no brand she'd ever seen before.

I cleared the table,
put empty cartons back in the bag.
Glued to the bottom,
translucent with oil, the pale green bill
a maze of Chinese characters.
Between the sealed lips of my fortune cookie,
a white scrap of paper poking out . . .

Tonight, the wiater brings Happy Family
steaming under a metal dome
and three small igloos of rice.
Mounded on the white oval plate, the unlikely
marriage of meat and fish, crab and chicken.
Not all Happy Families are alike.
The chef's tossed in wilted greens
and water chestnuts, silk against crunch;
he's added fresh ginger to baby corn,
carrots, bamboo shoots, scallions, celery,
broccoli, pea pods, bok choy.
My daughter impales a chunk of beef
on her chopstick and contentedly
sucks on it, like a popsicle.
Eating Happy family, we all begin to smile.

I prod the only thing left on the plate,
a large garnish
carved in the shape of an open rose.
Is it a turnip? an asian pear?
The edges of the delicate petals
tinged with pink dye, the flesh
white and cool as a peeled apple's.
My daughter reaches for it --

"No good to eat!" The waiter rushes over --
"Rutabaga! Not cooked! Poison!" --

and hands us a plate with the bill
buried under three fortune cookies --
our teeth already tearing
at the cellophane, our fingers prying open
our three fates.

-- Jane Shore
Happy Family, Picador USA, 1999

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