Friday, May 30, 2008


Fifteen Sonnets

"Interpreting the Foreign Queen"

I rush home after class to slurp her thigh,
to pounce on baby belly, press my lips deep
to spray wet-raspberry kisses.  They make her writhe.
I'm spilling giggles, nibbling ticklish feet.
My husband, the anti-tickler, disapproves.
He says she'd just been resting in his lap,
she'd just had food (she's always just had food) --
now, overstimulated, she won't nap.
He swears I shouldn't toss her, not so high.
She gives a shriek -- pure terror, pure delight?
We read our own emotions in her eyes.
If only she could speak to say who's right --
to say I am.  For him, I put her down.
Just two more days till he goes out of town.

-- Beth Ann Fennelly

* * *  

"At Quark's Bar,  Deep Space Nine"

My maker took your fascists' cartoon-Jew,
Scaled back its nose but gave me ears like clams
So I won't take abuse, old chap, from you,
Cocksure from pornographic holograms.
Consider an off-camera position:
You called me Shylock when I brought your bill;
I've read outside the Rules of Acquisition
And never bought this worship of your Will --
The 'many-coloured life' he gave each part?
Did that include his Jewish moneylender?
He makes the bar-bill read like Jean-Paul Sartre.
You're new, so I won't write you off, big spender,
But I keep tabs and bills and records straight.
Now pay.  I'm not here just to educate.

-- Ian Duhig

* * *

"Orion the Hunter"

The chair of Women's Studies wrote to the
University administration

On the glut of men as constellations.
After much debate a vast committee

Was created to render gender-free
The universe.  Soon sky charts were redone

In ways that cast into oblivion
The cosmic heteropatriarchy.

And yet Orion stil rose winter nights.
His bright, expansive rays inflamed parked cars,

Department windows, each roof on campus.
Security then installed blinding lights

So coeds leaving classes after dusk
Would not be taken by that blaze of stars.

-- Alan R. Wilson

* * *

"My Daughter Considers Her Body"

She examines her hand, fingers spread wide.
Seated, she bends over her crossed legs
to search for specks or scars and cannot hide
her awe when any mark is found.  She begs
me to look, twisting before her mirror,
at some tiny bruise on her hucklebone.
Barely awake,  she studies creases her
arm developed as she slept.  She has grown
entranced with blemish, begun to know
her body's facility for being
flawed.  She does not trust its will to grow
whole again, but may learn that too, freeing
herself to accept the body's deep thirst
for risk.  Learning to touch her wounds comes first.

-- Floyd Skoot

* * *


From time to time our love is like a sail
and when the sail begins to alternate
from tack to tack, it's like a swallowtail
and when the swallow flies it's like a coat;
and if the coat is yours, it has a tear
like a wide mouth and when the mouth begins
to draw the wind, it's like a trumpeter
and when the trumpet blows, it blows like millions . . .
and this, my love, when millions come and go
beyond the need of us, is like a trick;
and when the trick begins, it's like a toe
tip-toeing on a rope, which is like luck;
and when the luck begins, it's like a wedding,
which is like love, which is like everything.

-- Alice Oswald

* * *

"Down from the Country"

When we came down from the country, we were strangers to the sea.
The rise and fall of waters without rain,
the lunglike breathing of the estuary
caused our amazement; and the white stain
of salt on the rocks, when the tide receded,
where we were used to dark mud that a flood leaves behind,
held us enthralled; and we needed
some mental adjustment which people noticed.  when the mind
is confronted by such magnitudes of sight and sound
there is no mask for refuge in frown or grimace;
but the face looks blank, as if it were dragged up, drowned.

How much loneliness is there in a different place,
out of one's shell, out of all knowledge, to be caught
out of the dullness of self by such alien thought?

-- John Blight

* * *

"The throat-flute uttering its constant note"

The throat-flute uttering its constant note
of claim and name and wake and never-same
and nuanced cadences of sate, remote
days translated into a breathing frame,

knows its viewless voice is future's lend,
surpassing present where it grows and dwells
momently, glancing vocable, to spend
blooming fullness as it spills and swells

in the air ear, othered.  Heard, is it the same?
Future-fathered, present-mothered -- instrument
of mute contingencies its songs declaim

note by note by stopless increment
in the sounding, silenced.  Audible degree
nights the note that lets mind's nighttime see.

-- Karen Volkman

* * *

"The Skaters"

Extending hands, we shape the ice in games
by poles of light that sluice upon the pond.
Through pines the moon had shown; now slipped beyond
where skaters cannot see or skate their names.
Now only blackness, such a blackness now
as hides all sight of trees, stiff reeds that sprout
by ice we marked gliding deft figures out
from side to side, and in a truce (although
we scarcely see beneath our knees) blow
a hot skater's breath that leaves no trace
as we slice wider rings and wider race
leaning from the edge where dark shapes grow,
tilting parallel, holding tight,
our arms a skipping rope for leaps of night.

-- George Ellenbogen

* * * 

"When Weaver Ants Cut (A Valentine)"

I love the dance of every one helping.
Each ant chews and chews a bit of juicy leaf
and stands on his back four legs to raise
the leaf shape up high above his head.
The congo line -- a honey shimmer of bodies
rushingj to bring the cut leaf home.  For twelve
years, the ruler of Garwara, India was a jackal.
All the laughing in that town cannot
compare to what you have brought
into my home:  a filament of light inside
a dark jellyfish bell.  It's this dance of ants
down a tree, around a stubborn frog -- I want
to dance with you -- how brave the line,
how tiny the step, a hundred green valentines.

-- Aimee Nezhukumatathil

* * *

"Even As We Sleep"

Avoidance has found someone else to blame,
Obsession seeks a mantra to repeat,
And swift with Panic, runs across the street
In order not to have to deal with Shame,
Who urges Rage and Folly to come meet
Denial, going by another name;
Now unmarked cards cost Honesty the game,
As Confidence turns out to be Deceit,

And Guilt refuses to complain about
The way she's being treated by her men,
While ever-diffident Anxiety 
Is wondering if best is not to be,
In this dark cavern between now and when,
Of whose existence he is much in doubt.

-- Charles Martin

* * *

"The Age of Mechanical Reproduction"

If we laugh and photograph ourselves
which is difficult but not impossible
we create a system for analysing humour
and days later we are stuck with it
like Marxism too quickly understood
and thus betrayed.  Is a smile a role?
The snapshots make a guess, and unavoidably
a complex answer is building up inside us

conditioned by empiricism.  we love and burn
just for a year or so, then take those photos
and lose a precious ability and a sweetheart
and nothing seems the same, ever again.
This dogging loss chews at my heel and soon
years later, we are less than what we knew.

-- John Tranter

* * *

"Wrong Again"

I did the right thing once (may God reward me);
Restrained myself.  I took a moral stance.
Virtue, I found, was not my thing -- it bored me
Rigid, and I would like another chance
To earn myself a wicked reputation
Equal to yours.  I'll match you sin for sin.
Lies, promiscuity, inebriation --
It all sounds lovely.  What can we begin?
I used to be afraid of rumours spreading.
You made my fear seem fussy, immature.
Here's my new motto, the:  just change the bedding
And carry on exactly as before.
A single, happy night beneath your quilt
Is all I want.  I'll risk post-coital guilt.

-- Sophie Hannah

* * *

"The Rising Sun"

As i was driven into smoky Tokyo,
The yen declined again.  It had been going down
All day against the buoyant Hibernian Pound.
Black rain descended like a harp arpeggio.

The Professor took me to a bonsai garden
To imbibe some thimblefuls of Japanese poteen.
We wandered through the forest of the books of Arden.
The number of their syllables was seventeen.

I met a maiden of Hiroshima who played
The hammer dulcimer like psychedelic rain.
The rising sun was hid behind a cloud of jade.

She sang to me of Fujiyama and of Zen,
Of yin and yang, and politics, and crack cocaine,
And Plato's caverns, which are measureless to men.

-- Ciaran Carson

* * *

"Carrion Crows"

Yes, I have seen them perched on paling posts --
Brooding with evil eyes upon the road,
Their black wings hooded -- and they left those roosts
When I have hissed at them.  Away they strode
clapping their wings in a man's stride away
Over the fields.  and I have seen them feast
On swollen carrion in the broad eye of day,
Pestered by flies, and yet they never ceased.

But I have seen them emperors of the sky,
Balancing gracefully in the wind's drive
With their broad sails just shifting or again
Throwing huge shadows from the sun's eye
To brush so swiftly over the fields' plain,
And winnowing the air like beauty come alive.

--  A. J. Seymour

* * *

"Missing Fact"

Noli me tangere, for Caesars I ame;
And wylde for to hold, though I seeme tame.
-- Thomas Wyatt, c. 1535

Sometimes time turns perfect rhyme to slant,
as in Wyatt's famous sonnet -- how the couplet
no longer chimes, his "ame" turned "am," now coupled
more by pattern, form.  so everything gets bent
and tuned by time's tectonic slippage.  You and
I, for instance, no longer click or chord
the sharp way we did, when secretly wired
two decades back (not fifty -- but then human
prosody shifts faster); and surely that's best --
half-rhyme better suits the human, and consonance,
not a flawless fit, is mostly what counts
over years.  but still, this urge (from the past?
our genes?) to shirk all, for one more perfect-
coupling rhyme:  for two again as one pure fact.

-- Steven Heighton

Gorgeous. It's amazing how much the sonnet can hold: so many variations packed into one suitcase, that has a basic shape, but so many different hues and hides.
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