Thank God, it’s you, baby, this time instead of me: four poems by Richard Brautigan

It’s Raining in Love

I don’t know what it is,
but I distrust myself
when I start to like a girl
a lot.

It makes me nervous.
I don’t say the right things
or perhaps I start
to examine,
evaluate,
compute
what I am saying.

If I say, “Do you think it’s going to rain?”
and she says, “I don’t know,”
I start thinking: Does she really like me?

In other words
I get a little creepy.

A friend of mine once said,
“It’s twenty times better to be friends
with someone
than it is to be in love with them.”

I think he’s right and besides,
it’s raining somewhere, programming flowers
and keeping snails happy.
That’s all taken care of.

But,

if a girl likes me a lot
and starts getting real nervous
and suddenly begins asking me funny questions
and looks sad if I give the wrong answers
and she says things like,
“Do you think it’s going to rain?”
and I say, “It beats me,”
and she says, “Oh,”
and looks a little sad
at the clear blue California sky,
I think: Thank God, it’s you, baby, this time
instead of me.


Gee, You’re so Beautiful That it’s Starting to Rain 

Oh, Marcia,
I want your long blonde beauty
to be taught in high school,
so kids will learn that God
lives like music in the skin
and sounds like a sunshine harpsicord.
I want high school report cards
to look like this:


Love Poem

It’s so nice
to wake up in the morning
all alone
and not have to tell somebody
you love them
when you don’t love them
any more.


The Moon Versus Us Ever Sleeping Together Again 

I sit here, an arch-villain of romance,
thinking about you. Gee, I’m sorry
I made you unhappy, but there was nothing
I could do about it because I have to be free.
Perhaps everything would have been different
if you had stayed at the table or asked me
to go out with you to look at the moon,
instead of getting up and leaving me alone with
her.

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Thank God, it’s you, baby, this time instead of me: four poems by Richard Brautigan

My wife has scars like spread raindrops on knees and ankles: four poems by Michael Ondaatje

Speaking to You (From Rock Bottom)

Speaking to you
this hour
these days when
I have lost the feather of poetry
and the rains
of separation
surround us tock
tock like Go tablets

Everyone has learned
to move carefully

‘Dancing’ ‘laughing’ ‘bad taste’
is a memory
a tableau behind trees of law

In the midst of love for you
my wife’s suffering
anger in every direction
and the children wise
as tough shrubs
but they are not tough
–so I fear
how anything can grow from this

all the wise blood
poured from little cuts
down into the sink

this hour it is not
your body I want
but your quiet company.


Last Ink

In certain countries aromas pierce the heart and one dies
half waking in the night as an owl and a murderer’s cart go by

the way someone in your life will talk out love and grief
then leave your company laughing.

In certain languages the calligraphy celebrates
where you met the plum blossom and moon by chance

—the dusk light, the cloud pattern,
recorded always in your heart

and the rest of the world—chaos,
circling your winter boat.

Night of the Plum and Moon.

Years later you shared it
on a scroll or nudged
the ink onto stone
to hold the vista of a life.

A condensary of time in the mountains
—your rain-swollen gate, a summer
scarce with human meeting.
Just bells from another village.

The memory of a woman walking down stairs.

Life on an ancient leaf
or a crowded 5th-century seal

this mirror-world of art
—lying on it as if a bed.

When you first saw her,
the night of moon and plum,
you could speak of this to no one.
You cut your desire
against a river stone.
You caught yourself
in a cicada-wing rubbing,
lightly inked.
The indelible darker self.

A seal, the Masters said,
must contain bowing and leaping,
‘and that which hides in waters.’

Yellow, drunk with ink,
the scroll unrolls to the west
a river journey, each story
an owl in the dark, its child-howl

unreachable now
—that father and daughter,
that lover walking naked down blue stairs
each step jarring the humming from her mouth.

I want to die on your chest but not yet,
she wrote, sometime in the 13 th century
of our love

before the yellow age of paper

before her story became a song,
lost in imprecise reproductions

until caught in jade,

whose spectrum could hold the black greens
the chalk-blue of her eyes in daylight.

Our altering love, our moonless faith.

Last ink in the pen.

My body on this hard bed.

The moment in the heart
where I roam restless, searching
for the thin border of the fence
to break through or leap.

Leaping and bowing.


The Time Around Scars

A girl whom I’ve not spoken to
or shared coffee with for several years
writes of an old scar.
On her wrist it sleeps, smooth and white,
the size of a leech.
I gave it to her
brandishing a new Italian penknife.
Look, I said turning,
and blood spat onto her shirt.

My wife has scars like spread raindrops
on knees and ankles,
she talks of broken greenhouse panes
and yet, apart from imagining red feet,
(a nymph out of Chagall)
I bring little to that scene.
We remember the time around scars,
they freeze irrelevant emotions
and divide us from present friends.
I remember this girl’s face,
the widening rise of surprise.

And would she
moving with lover or husband
conceal or flaunt it,
or keep it at her wrist
a mysterious watch.
And this scar I then remember
is a medallion of no emotion.

I would meet you now
and I would wish this scar
to have been given with
all the love
that never occurred between us.


Nine Sentiments (IX)

An old book on the poisons
of madness, a map
of forest monasteries,
a chronicle brought across
the sea in Sanskrit slokas.
I hold all these
but you have become
a ghost for me.

I hold only your shadow
since those days I drove
your nature away.

A falcon who became a coward.

I hold you the way astronomers
draw constellations for each other
in the markets of wisdom

placing shells
on a dark blanket
saying ‘these
are the heavens’

calculating the movement
of the great stars.

My wife has scars like spread raindrops on knees and ankles: four poems by Michael Ondaatje

All the oaths we take and make and utter: three poems by Amy Fleury

At Twenty-Eight

It seems I get by on more luck than sense,
not the kind brought on by knuckle to wood,
breath on dice, or pennies found in the mud.
I shimmy and slip by on pure fool chance.
At turns charmed and cursed, a girl knows romance
as coffee, red wine, and books; solitude
she counts as daylight virtue and muted
evenings, the inventory of absence.
But this is no sorry spinster story,
just the way days string together a life.
Sometimes I eat soup right out of the pan.
Sometimes I don’t care if I will marry.
I dance in my kitchen on Friday nights,
singing like only a lucky girl can.


The Progress of Night

In the late elegiac light, insects
chide the frail contraption of the sky,
its faulty system of pulleys and wires.

Piteous stars circuit the stripped gears
of galaxy as crickets keep grinding
out twilight’s tinny, dwindling music.

Again that pale immigrant blunders in
to watch over the progress of night,
to observe the grim magics we practice,

all the oaths we take and make and utter.
What comfort can we offer another
traveler under this same unsteady scaffold?

We’ll find no charm against calamity.
Though the dark architecture of the heart
is buttressed by sternum, girded by ribs,

we build our lives from its very trembling.


First Morel

Up from wood rot,
wrinkling up from duff
and homely damps,
spore-born and cauled
like a meager seer,
it pushes aside earth
to make a small place
from decay. Bashful,
it brings honeycombed
news from below
of the coming plenty
and everything rising.
All the oaths we take and make and utter: three poems by Amy Fleury

I am all that is left. Forgive me: Three poems by Rachel McKibbens

Untitled (Last Love)

To my daughters I need to say:

Go with the one who loves you biblically.
The one whose love lifts its head to you
despite its broken neck. Whose body bursts
sixteen arms electric to carry you, gentle
the way old grief is gentle.

Love the love that is messy in all its too much,
The body that rides best your body, whose mouth
saddles the naked salt of your far gone hips,
whose tongue translates the rock language of
all your elegant scars.

Go with the one who cries out for her tragic sisters
as she chops the winter’s wood, the one whose skin
triggers your heart into a heaven of blood waltzes.

Go with the one who resembles most your father.
Not the father you can point out on a map,
but the father who is here, is your home,
is the key to your front door.

Know that your first love will only be the first.
And the second and third and even fourth
will unprepare you for the most important:

The Blessed. The Beast. The Last Love,

which is, of course, the most terrifying kind.
Because which of us wants to go with what can murder us?
Can reveal to us our true heart’s end and its thirty years
spent in poverty? Can mimic the sound of our bird-throated mothers,
replicate the warmth of our brothers’ tempers?
Can pull us out of ourselves until we are no longer sisters
or daughters or sword swallowers but, instead,
women who give and lead and take and want
and want and want and want,
because there is no shame in wanting.

And you will hear yourself say:

Last Love, I wish to die so I may come back to you
new and never tasted by any other mouth but yours.
And I want to be the hands that pull your children
out of you and tuck them deep inside myself until they are
ready to be the children of such a royal and staggering love.
Or you will say:

Last Love, I am old, and have spent myself on the courageless,
have wasted too many clocks on less-deserving men,
so I hurl myself at the throne of you and lie humbly at your feet.

Last Love, let me never roll out of this heavy dream of you,
let the day I was born mean my life will end
where you end. Let the man behind the church
do what he did if it brings me to you. Let the girls
in the locker room corner me again if it brings me to you.
Let this wild depression throw me beneath its hooves
if it brings me to you. Let me pronounce my hoarded joy
if it brings me to you. Let my father break me again
and again if it brings me to you.

Last love, I have let other men borrow your children. Forgive me.
Last love, I once vowed my heart to another. Forgive me.
Last Love, I have let my blind and anxious hands wander into a room
and come out empty. Forgive me.

Last Love, I have cursed the women you loved before me. Forgive me.
Last Love, I envy your mother’s body where you resided first. Forgive me.
Last Love, I am all that is left. Forgive me.
Last Love, I did not see you coming. Forgive me.

Last Love, every day without you was a life I crawled out of. Amen.
Last Love, you are my Last Love. Amen.
Last Love, I am all that is left. Amen.

I am all that is left.
Amen.


Letter From My Heart To My Brain

Its 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 and heartless things.
It’s okay to write, I deserve everything,
to bow down to this rotten thing
that understands you, to adore the red
and ugly queen of it, to admire
her calm and 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. Its 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 and 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 to rock to rock to rock to rock and rock.

It’s okay to wave good-bye 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.


Letter From My Brain To My Heart

This house is dirty, but comfortable.
Behind each crooked door
waits the angry weather of a forgiveless child.
I cannot help but admire this horrible
power of mine, how each small thing
can become a death: the lost house key. A spoiled egg.
A howling dog. There is no prayer or pill for this.
It is a ruthless botany; I might as well
be buried in the yard. I have no one to blame.
Not the mother who sang to an empty cradle.
Not the Dog of Spite who bit my hand,
just this long-legged sorrow
who trails my every joy like a dark perfume.

You have my permission not to love me;
I am a cathedral of deadbolts
and I’d rather burn myself down
than change the locks.

I am all that is left. Forgive me: Three poems by Rachel McKibbens

Some say written language is only the bad translation of spoken: two poems by Rachel Rostad

To JK Rowling, from Cho Chang

When you put me in your books millions of Asian girls across America rejoiced!
Finally, a potential Halloween costume that wasn’t a geisha, or Mulan!
I mean, what’s not to love about me? I’m everybody’s favorite character!
I totally get to fight tons of death eaters and have a great sense of humor
and am full of complex emotions.

Oh wait. That’s the version of Harry Potter where I’m not fucking worthless.

First of all, you put me in Ravenclaw.
Of course the only Asian at Hogwarts would be put in the nerdy house.
Too bad you didn’t have a house that specialized in computers and math and karate, huh?

I know, you thought you were being tolerant.
Between me, Dean, and the Indian twins, Hogwarts has like…five brown people?
It doesn’t matter we’re all minor characters. Nah, you’re not racist!
Just like how you’re not homophobic, because Dumbledore’s totally gay!
Of course it’s never said in the books, but man. Hasn’t society come so far?
Now gays don’t just have to be closeted in real life—
they can even be closeted fictionally!

Ms. Rowling. Let’s talk about my name. Cho. Chang.
Cho and Chang are both last names.
They are both Korean last names.
I am supposed to be Chinese.
Me being named “Cho Chang” is like a Frenchman being named “Garcia Sanchez.”

So thank you. Thank you for giving me no heritage.
Thank you for giving me a name as generic as a ninja costume.
As chopstick hair ornaments.
Ms. Rowling, I know you’re just the latest participant
in a long tradition of turning Asian women into a tragic fetish.
Madame Butterfly. Japanese woman falls in love with a white soldier,
is abandoned, kills herself.
Miss Saigon. Vietnamese woman falls in love with a white soldier,
is abandoned, kills herself.
Memoirs Of A Geisha. Lucy Liu in leather. Schoolgirl porn.
So let me cry over boys more than I speak.
Let me fulfill your diversity quota.
Just one more brown girl mourning her white hero.

No wonder Harry Potter’s got yellow fever.
We giggle behind small hands and “no speak Engrish.”
What else could a man see in me?
What else could I be but what you made me?
Subordinate. Submissive. Subplot.

Go ahead. Tell me I’m overreacting.
Ignore the fact that your books have sold 400 million copies worldwide.
I am plastered across movie screens,
a bestselling caricature.

Last summer,
I met a boy who spoke like rain against windows.
He had his father’s blue eyes.
He’d press his wrist against mine and say he was too pale.
That my skin was so much more beautiful.
To him, I was Pacific sunset,
almond milk, a porcelain cup.
When he left me, I told myself I should have seen it coming.
I wasn’t sure I was sad but I cried anyway.
Girls who look like me are supposed to cry over boys who look like him.
I’d seen all the movies and read all the books.
We were just following the plot.


Names

My full name is Rachel Youngeun Rostad. This can be kind of confusing to people.
So my birth name was Youngeun. I used to think my birth mom gave it to me.
But she didn’t. It was given by the foster home, not much more than a bar-code.

Then my parents adopted me and renamed me Rachel,
and turned my birth name into my middle name. Rachel Youngeun Rostad.

Most names mean admirable traits like “strong,” “kind,” “beautiful.”
When you name your daughter, it’s a prayer for everything you want her to be.

Starting when I was seven, I spent every summer at a Korean culture camp.
There, my name was my Korean name, Youngeun.
Now, I am trained to answer to both “Rachel” and “Youngeun.”
Kind of like knowing how to use both forks and chopsticks.

I’ve never had a nickname.

According to google, there’s a Rachel Rostad who’s a fashion designer in LA.
And there’s another Rachael Rostad who apparently is the Goodhue County Dairy Princess. I’m not sure exactly what this means but there’s a picture of her
with a gold medal and a cow. Both of these other Rachel Rostads have blonde hair.

When you find, say, an injured bird in your backyard,
and you wanna to nurse it back to health and release it back into the wild,
they tell you not to name it. If you name something, it becomes a someone.
It makes it harder to give it up.

When my parents named me Rachel, it was a prayer for everything
they wanted me to be: American.

Sometimes I’m glad my first name is as apple pie and baseball as Rachel.
But also kinda not.

How your ancestors had a different name stepping off of Ellis Island
than when they stepped on.

The pros and cons of taking your husband’s last name as your own.

The pros and cons of accepting a diagnosis.

Some say written language is only the bad translation of spoken.

You cannot read a speech and see the speaker.

You cannot read sheet music and hear the song.

When the very first word was written down,
something must have been lost.

When my parents renamed me “Rachel,”
something must have been lost.

Two years ago, I started the search for my birth mom.
She still hasn’t answered my letter.
The adoption agency tells me she lives in Seoul.
This is the closest to knowing her name I will get.

Let’s imagine I know her name.
If I found her Facebook profile, would this count as a reunion?

Let’s imagine she found my name in a newspaper.
Would she picture “Rachel Rostad” as a girl with blonde hair?

The name Youngeun is a barcode.
The name Rachel is a Made in America sticker slapped onto a Korean flag.

I have never had a nickname.

Either that, or I’ve only ever had nicknames.

Sometimes I wonder what my birth mom would have named me
if I hadn’t been a wild animal she’d eventually have to release.

She still hasn’t answered my letter.
I’m not waiting for a reply.
When you name your daughter,
it’s a prayer for everything you want her to be.
It makes sense, then, that she named me nothing.

Some say written language is only the bad translation of spoken: two poems by Rachel Rostad

Breath, like memory, is not loyal: two poems by Vuyelwa Maluleke

Tonight

I know I may not have you for long
so while you sleep, I roll myself next to you
feel the honey sticky of your cheek against mine
and get myself stuck.
Man!
if you weren’t sleeping
you’d like it as much as i do then tell me
it’s an ‘unsolicited violation of your personal space’
you won’t mean this
by now I can predict your clouds
when you tell me you’re dangerous
I have no reason to doubt this about you
you are a tired quilt of women,
a patchwork of petrol fires that burn when you’re awake in the absence of your father,
your hands remind me of home- the warm bed, my father’s distance.
you?
you remind me of no other lover
you don’t do it on purpose, I like this.
so I give you a shelf , in a wardrobe of a flat im renting out
the vacant assurance
that you’ll be here
tomorrow
i’m not stupid, i know we’re not for keeps
still, I wish I was the only place you hung your shirts
I wish you’d stencil my hand over the aches,
I will always be here to
to plant healing with chicken soup
and handsome adjectives
and it will cost me nothing.
But you’d tell me that
breath, like memory, is not loyal
that tomorrow I could build myself a temple
on someones elses collar bone
write better poetry to sail there and worship there
Five times a day, with love as it is
hot then cold- it’s in that 3am shiver
that our spines tell tales on us
of the lovers before
the teeth in their hands
the treasures they were given
and not given,
all the while carving stone shelters in the soft caves of backs
they would abandon when your laughter no longer brought out the stars for them
while you sleep
I catch the saxhorn growl in your chest
match its crescendo with mine
we make good music
This is where you belong.
you never say yes
never stay long enough to share the grocery bill with me
I bury myself with you anyway
you don’t notice how deep.
Your lips, are red sirens littered with commas
I want so badly to hear them speak yes.
Instead knowing you are someone else’s
I follow the fists your eyes make against your nightmares.
I think damn he must be a hero behind those brown doors.


If You Should Kill Me

The clouds have been threatening to break the rain loose
you try the same shaky trick on me.
no one hears you tie pillows around the screams
and hold my breath under yours,
you are quick anger
a bayamo wind that sneaks up on both of us
the clouds will break the rain loose tonight, I will pour
who will clean up the puddles next to my tea cup?
and if I run too slow,
who will mop me off the floor when you’re done
chasing your vengeful rumble through me
how good a job will they do putting me together this time?
and this time how many needles will they use
I can’t recall when your thunder got this vile
how it cooked itself so big, in the back of your mouth
and sat between the word we shared
waiting for its seconds
in a desserted room.
when no one could hear us both
fighting to be heard and forgiven
I don’t remember the day I started running
or how fast  needed to go,
where did I think I could go?
your eyes questioned in a smirk i knew could open fresh wounds
‘what did you do when you caught up to me?’
you say you’re sorry
that i don’t know how to be careful with you
to prove it, you grieve the purple deaths along my arms and ribs with me
but we know it will happen again.

and if you should kill me this time
what will you tell them happened
when they ask?
tell them/don’t tell them
don’t tell them it was you
tell them I was awkward
that I could never walk straight without
tripping on a carpet I knew was there
and hitting a wall we’d decorated with ourselves
pull your hair out in saddness.
even if you don’t mean it
do it anyway and make it believable.
wail, but there must be no tears
that would be too big a lie to tell
I don’t want anyone to remember us like this
we’re too ugly, I didn’t tell them that part

Breath, like memory, is not loyal: two poems by Vuyelwa Maluleke

You’ve traveled this far on the back of every mistake: four poems by Dorianne Laux

Music in the Morning

When I think of the years he drank, the scars
on his chin, his thinning hair, his eye that still weeps
decades after the blow, my knees weaken with gratitude
for whatever kept him safe, whatever stopped
the glass from cracking and shearing something vital,
the fist from lowering, exploding an artery, pressing
the clot of blood toward the back of his brain.
Now, he sits calmly on the couch, reading,
refusing to wear the glasses I bought him,
holding the open book at arm’s length from his chest.
Behind him the windows are smoky with mist
and the tile floor is pushing its night chill
up through the bare soles of his feet. I like to think
he survived in order to find me, in order
to arrive here, sober, tired from a long night
of tongues and hands and thighs, music
on the radio, coffee– so he could look up and see me,
standing in the kitchen in his torn t-shirt,
the hem of it brushing my knees, but I know
it’s only luck that brought him here, luck
and a love that had nothing to do with me,
except that this is what we sometimes get if we live
long enough, if we are patient with our lives.


2 A.M.

When I came with you that first time
on the floor of your office, the dirty carpet
under my back, the heel of one foot
propped on your shoulder, I went ahead
and screamed, full-throated, as loud
and as long as my body demanded,
because somewhere, in the back of my mind,
packed in the smallest neurons still capable
of thought, I remembered
we were in a warehouse district
and that no sentient being resided for miles.
Afterwards, when I would unclench
my hands and open my eyes, I looked up.
You were on your knees, your arms
stranded at your sides, so still —
the light from the crooknecked lamp
sculpting each lift and delicate twist,
the lax muscles, the smallest veins
on the backs of your hands. I saw
the ridge of each rib, the blue hollow
pulsing at your throat, all the colors
in your long blunt cut hair which hung
over your face like a raffia curtain
in some south sea island hut.
And as each bright synapse unfurled
and followed its path, I recalled
a story I’d read that explained why women
cry out when they come — that it’s
the call of the conqueror, a siren howl
of possession. So I looked again
and it felt true, your whole body
seemed defeated, owned, having taken on
the aspect of a slave in shackles, the wrists
loosely bound with invisible rope.
And when you finally spoke you didn’t
lift your head but simply moaned the word god
on an exhalation of breath — I knew then
I must be merciful, benevolent,
impossibly kind.


What’s Broken

The slate black sky. The middle step
of the back porch. And long ago

my mother’s necklace, the beads
rolling north and south. Broken

the rose stem, water into drops, glass
knobs on the bedroom door. Last summer’s

pot of parsley and mint, white roots
shooting like streamers through the cracks.

Years ago the cat’s tail, the bird bath,
the car hood’s rusted latch. Broken

little finger on my right hand at birth—
I was pulled out too fast. What hasn’t

been rent, divided, split? Broken
the days into nights, the night sky

into stars, the stars into patterns
I make up as I trace them

with a broken-off blade
of grass. Possible, unthinkable,

the cricket’s tiny back as I lie
on the lawn in the dark, my heart

a blue cup fallen from someone’s hands.


Antilamentation

Regret nothing. Not the cruel novels you read
to the end just to find out who killed the cook.
Not the insipid movies that made you cry in the dark,
in spite of your intelligence, your sophistication.
Not the lover you left quivering in a hotel parking lot,
the one you beat to the punchline, the door, or the one
who left you in your red dress and shoes, the ones
that crimped your toes, don’t regret those.
Not the nights you called god names and cursed
your mother, sunk like a dog in the livingroom couch,
chewing your nails and crushed by loneliness.
You were meant to inhale those smoky nights
over a bottle of flat beer, to sweep stuck onion rings
across the dirty restaurant floor, to wear the frayed
coat with its loose buttons, its pockets full of struck matches.
You’ve walked those streets a thousand times and still
you end up here. Regret none of it, not one
of the wasted days you wanted to know nothing,
when the lights from the carnival rides
were the only stars you believed in, loving them
for their uselessness, not wanting to be saved.
You’ve traveled this far on the back of every mistake,
ridden in dark-eyed and morose but calm as a house
after the TV set has been pitched out the upstairs
window. Harmless as a broken ax. Emptied
of expectation. Relax. Don’t bother remembering
any of it. Let’s stop here, under the lit sign
on the corner, and watch all the people walk by.

You’ve traveled this far on the back of every mistake: four poems by Dorianne Laux