Be pleased to walk alone: three poems by Alice Walker

Be Nobody’s Darling

Be nobody’s darling;
Be an outcast.
Take the contradictions
Of your life
And wrap around
You like a shawl,
To parry stones
To keep you warm.
Watch the people succumb
To madness
With ample cheer;
Let them look askance at you
And you askance reply.
Be an outcast;
Be pleased to walk alone
(Uncool)
Or line the crowded
River beds
With other impetuous
Fools.

Make a merry gathering
On the bank
Where thousands perished
For brave hurt words
They said.

But be nobody’s darling;
Be an outcast.
Qualified to live
Among your dead.


How Poems are Made/A Discredited View

Letting go
In order to hold one
I gradually understand
How poems are made.

There is a place the fear must go.
There is a place the choice must go.
There is a place the loss must go.
The leftover love.
The love that spills out
Of the too full cup
And runs and hides
Its too full self
In shame.

I gradually comprehend
How poems are made.
To the upbeat flight of memories.
The flagged beats of the running
Heart.

I understand how poems are made.
They are the tears
That season the smile.
The stiff-neck laughter
That crowds the throat.
The leftover love.
I know how poems are made.

There is a place the loss must go.
There is a place the gain must go.
The leftover love.


The Tree of Life Has Fallen

The tree of life
has fallen on my small house.
I thought it was so much bigger!
But it is not.
There in the distance I see the mountains
still.
The view of vast water stretching before me
is superb.
My boat is grand and I still command the captain
of it; not having learned myself to sail.
But I am adrift
without my tree of life
that has fallen heavy
without grace or pity
on this small place.
For the departing dictator, in perpetuity.

Advertisements
Be pleased to walk alone: three poems by Alice Walker

But something comes between us, like glass or water, a distance I cannot avoid: four poems by Lawrence Raab

Why It Often Rains in the Movies

Because so much consequential thinking
happens in the rain. A steady mist
to recall departures, a bitter downpour
for betrayal. As if the first thing
a man wants to do when he learns his wife
is sleeping with his best friend, and has been
for years, the very first thing
is not to make a drink, and drink it,
and make another, but to walk outside
into bad weather. It’s true
that the way we look doesn’t always
reveal our feelings. Which is a problem
for the movies. And why somebody has to smash
a mirror, for example, to show he’s angry
and full of self-hate, whereas actual people
rarely do this. And rarely sit on benches
in the pouring rain to weep. Is he wondering
why he didn’t see it long ago? Is he wondering
if in fact he did, and lied to himself?
And perhaps she also saw the many ways
he’d allowed himself to be deceived. In this city
it will rain all night. So the three of them
return to their houses, and the wife
and her lover go upstairs to bed
while the husband takes a small black pistol
from a drawer, turns it over in his hands,
the puts it back. Thus demonstrating
his inability to respond to passion
with passion. But we don’t want him
to shoot his wife, or his friend, or himself.
And we’ve begun to suspect
that none of this is going to work out,
that we’ll leave the theater feeling
vaguely cheated, just as the movie,
turning away from the husband’s sorrow,
leaves him to be a man who must continue,
day after day, to walk outside into the rain,
outside and back again, since now there can be
nowhere in this world for him to rest.


Walking Alone

Where the wild poem is a substitute
For the woman one loves or ought to love,
One wild rhapsody a fake for another.

– Wallace Stevens

It is night. For hours I have been walking,
wanting to see you, hoping you might
appear suddenly by the side of the road,
on a bridge, or in the arc of headlights
bending toward me. I have continued

beyond any place you might conceivably be.
Sunk into a dark hollow, between trees
and stone, the river goes where it has to go.
In the cold air I construct long conversations:
whatever we wouldn’t say if you were here.

I recite poems. I return home and write more.
You are, of course, attending within them,
beautiful and calm, near a window
or by a bridge before winter. I fix you
safely, where we might find each other.

But something comes between us, like glass
or water, a distance I cannot avoid.
We meet by accident and fall away.
I come back here, compose another poem,
and walk about at night reciting it to you.

Everything I conceive as possible returns
to an ordered page. I wish I were blind.
I wish my fingers would drop off.
What are they doing, writing all this again?


Marriage

Years later they find themselves talking
about chances, moments when their lives
might have swerved off
for the smallest reason.
                                     What if
I hadn’t phoned, he says, that morning?
What if you’d been out,
as you were when I tried three times
the night before?
                           Then she tells him a secret.
She’d been there all evening, and she knew
he was the one calling, which was why
she hadn’t answered.
                               Because she felt—
because she was certain—her life would change
if she picked up the phone, said hello,
said, I was just thinking
of you.
            I was afraid,
she tells him. And in the morning
I also knew it was you, but I just
answered the phone
                            the way anyone
answers a phone when it starts to ring,
not thinking you have a choice.


Afterwards

I wasn’t thinking of you.
But so much stays the same.
Even a room resists our efforts.
The old things are taken away,
given away, lost. A different
picture then, a new chair.
Entering, I expect you to be there.

These are the inescapable
phrases that hope for more:
something about the weather,
and all that can and cannot
be healed, and how, and how long.
Time passes and it reminds us
of everything we happen to remember.

Then we return to the same
few objects, few events. The house
darkens, and the lights come on.
And even this room
changes to fit your absence,
no matter what we say or how
we choose to think about it.

But something comes between us, like glass or water, a distance I cannot avoid: four poems by Lawrence Raab

No matter how tight your good arms are around me: three poems by Alison Townsend

My Ex-Husband Asks Me Who Reads My Rough Drafts

No one, I say, over Thanksgiving dinner at the Fess, the rhinestone ear-
rings I bought to please my lover brushing my cheeks like cool, knowl-
edgeable fingers. Then I amend that to: Well, my writing group does, of course.
But mostly I read my own rough drafts now.
I don’t know why he’s asking or
what it matters, the two of us poised at opposite sides of the table,
polite and wary, but still family of a kind, thrown together this holiday
by circumstances too complicated to question.

Dinner arrives, with all the trimmings, and we talk of other things. His
job and mine. Econometric models for utility companies. The business
of selling books for a living. He wears the navy blue sweater with a
snowflake design that I helped him pick out at Brooks Brothers. I wear
a bargain, teal-green silk from Shopko that he’s never seen, the weird
alchemy of divorce making strange what was once most familiar.

Pumpkin pie comes, followed by decaf–sweetened, with lots of extra
cream–and all the silly things we know about one another float,
unspoken, in the lamplight between us. We do not talk of the future.

But as he bends to sign his half of the check, I see again how he bent at
our kitchen table, going over my manuscripts, pencil in hand, teaching
himself about poetry because he loved me. And how it is for love’s sake,
and because no one in our lives can ever really be replaced, that he asks
me this question I do not know how to answer, except with the words
of this poem, this rough draft I am still in the process of revising.


No Matter How Much Sunlight

We watched a program about depression last Friday, sitting together over
pizza and beer. It wasn’t about those blues we all get–aching scat-songs
of frustrated desire–but about the real thing, illness opening its black
rose in time-lapse, rank garden where the brain chemistry’s gone bad.

The program didn’t tell us anything I hadn’t already discovered, groping
my way through the fog those two years, tapping my fingers along earth’s
musty ceiling, searching for the combination that would release me into
the meadow where I’d been standing the day the ground fell through.

It was the same old information–drugs, talk therapy, the electrocon-
vulsive shock I’d once begged for, desperate for a cure. I watched, dis-
tant, critical, bored, demanding “more depth,” words that could describe
the mind as tar pit, moonscape, a smoldering slag heap where the world
goes silent, empty of color as a 1920s film.

But afterwards I couldn’t stop crying at how close that underworld still is,
and how clearly I remember the taste of dirt in my mouth. And how the
predilection for sadness is embedded within me, an obsidian arrow lodged
in the heart, no matter how tight your good arms are around me, or how
much sunlight I stand in, or how far I’ve traveled away from the dark.


Jane Morris Poses for Rossetti’s Prosperine

He wanted to paint me.
Though I was married to his best friend,
I felt his eyes follow me everywhere,
his gaze like a sable brush on my skin.
He undressed me, though it wasn’t me
he wanted at first, but the way my body
arranged itself under my clothes, my bones
and muscles struts for the teal velvet
drapery he dressed me in. And my hair,
of course, that cloud of auburn
I let loose, coppery strands
floating around me like opium smoke.

I could tell right away he enjoyed
making me pose, his directions godlike
and stern, as he moved me about like a doll,
saying, Turn this way, now that. Look back
at me over your shoulder as if I were the last
person alive. Now lift the pomegranate
with one hand, but clasp your wrist
with the other. As if trying to stop yourself
from eating something forbidden.
As if you are offering it to me.

I must confess it bored me, standing
that way for hours, hand bent slightly back,
neck arched and aching. I did what he said,
lifting the fruit he’d slit with his penknife,
its skin pulled back like a scab to reveal
the wound’s garnet-pebbled surface. It was even
my idea to press my mouth to the seeds, staining
it red, the tart juice puckering my lips
into that downward pout he loved
because it was sensual and sullen.

I stared back at him from beneath downcast
lashes as he painted, my eyes the color
of my robes, knowing he wanted me before he did,
desire before it’s admitted an animal
that doesn’t know it ought to run, every
moment ripe fruit about to be broken open.

I stood there before him for hours, tendrils
of ivy brushing my cheek. I stared
at him as he stared into me, pulling
out a sulky darkness I hadn’t known
I owned, the brush rarely still on the canvas,
the scent of sweat and turpentine
and oil paint filling up the room.

I was so good at keeping still
you could hardly see me breathe
as the brush slicked across my skin.
I made time stop, the way it’s supposed
to in art, that auburn hair I’d later
drag across his body merging
with the shadows of the other
world looming there behind me.

But though I may have seemed his prop
or plaything, some object he arranged,
like the sticky fruit bought fresh each day,
the footed brass dish, or the mirror
behind me, reflecting light from the world above,
we both knew he needed me. I was Prosperine,
the woman mythologized, a goddess on canvas,
flesh and blood frozen in time’s chipped
gilt frame. He couldn’t have painted
the picture without me, my eyes on his,
their teal green gone almost black
and taking him down, pulling him under
into the sensual muck, everything about
the underworld different than he’d expected.

No matter how tight your good arms are around me: three poems by Alison Townsend

Fight your better judgment ‘till you’re sinister again: five poems by Mindy Nettifee

The Year You Thought You Were Dying

The year you thought you were dying
was a really great year.

You ate licorice on the beach in January,
swam rum sauced in the icy Pacific
wearing only blue rubber flippers
and your grandfather’s dog tags
and for the first time, it felt good to be cold,
it felt good to be so cold it hurt.

You doted on pigeons and stray cats.
You ate honey peanuts in the park
and re-watched every movie that ever made you
cry, including Steve Martin’s The Jerk.
You tattooed your entire body in Pablo Neruda
translations and cherry blossoms.

You blew all your money on comfortable shoes
and one of those mattresses made from NASA space foam.
You slept the sleep of assassins and kings—remorseless.

You bought chocolate bars from all the kids who came
to your door and stock-piled them in your broom closet.
You left them in your will to THE SECRETARIES,
every last one of them.

You volunteered at the local senior center playing bingo.
When you won you forced to whole room to take shots of
Welch’s grape juice and sing the national anthem.

And you spent time with your favorite lover.
You let him get close.
Secret suicide note, nonsense alibi close.
shampoo scent dissection close.

Close enough to memorize your tells,
hand you your ass at pillow poker,
make your defenses look like the silly decoupage
of paper angels and Victorian roses that they were.
Close enough that your laughter
punched him with mint gum puffs.
Close enough that his sighs drove circles
in the parking lots of your sighs,
close enough to measure your ribcage
in wrists, your palms in lips.

So close, you didn’t even notice
your heart speed up, then stop,
when he kissed you so hard,
when the New Year’s ball dropped down.


All I Have To Say For Myself  

The last time you came to see me
there were anchors in your eyes,
hardback books in your posture.
You were the five star general of sureness,
a crisp white tuxedo of a man.

I was fiddling with my worn coat pockets,
puffing false confidence ghosts in the cold January air.
My hands were shitty champagne flutes
brimming with cheap merlot.
I couldn’t touch you without ruining you,
so I didn’t touch you at all.

It’s when you’re on the brink of something
that you lose your balance.
You told me that once.
When I can’t bring myself to say what I need to,
my heart plays Russian Roulette with my throat.
I swear I fired that night, but, nothing.

Someday, I’ll show you the bullet I had for you,
after time has done the wash.
I’ll take it out of the jar of missed opportunities.
We’ll hold it up to the light.
You’ll roll it around your mouth like a fallen tooth.
You won’t forgive me exactly,
but we’ll laugh about how small it is.
We’ll wonder how such a little thing
could ever have meant so much.


This is the Nonsense of Love

I.
Our kiss is a secret handshake, a password.
We love like spies, like bruised prize fighters,
like children building tree houses.

Our love is serious business.
One look from you and my spine
reincarnates as kite string.

When I hesitate to hold your hand,
it is because to know is to be responsible for knowing.

II.
There is no clean way to enter
the heavy machinery of the heart.

Just jagged cutthroat questions.
Just the glitter and blood production.

III.
The truth is this:
My love for you is the only empire
I will ever build.

When it falls,
as all empires do,
my career in empire building will be over.

I will retreat to an island.
I will dabble in the vacation-hut industry.
I will skulk about the private libraries and public parks.

I will fold the clean clothes.
I will wash the dishes.
I will never again dream of having the whole world.


The First Time

“…some people think the truth is the worst thing that can happen.
The truth is not the worst thing that can happen.”
-Tony Hoagland

I.

The first time your heart was torn from your chest,
You thought you were dying.
You knew you could not live with the empty space.
So you replaced your heart with metaphors
And set out to create a world where the metaphor was unbreakable.

Now look what you’ve done—
You can’t breathe so you write.
You can’t hurt so you drink rum and pour our pirate chanties.
You can’t want revenge so you leave.

II.

When I see you I have two thoughts:
You are the reason The Smith’s wrote songs,
And my god, you are beautiful.

You are so beautiful
Blinking stars go blind.

But I can see this is going to get ugly.
The metaphors don’t make you feel whole anymore.
You sell out your deepest insecurities for a handful of laughs.
This life has you wound so tight you make grandfather clocks look relaxed.
You hold your body like banks hold money—all locked up.
Your shoulders are glass rocks waiting for the next attack.

But you’ve got it all wrong.

You don’t survive history.
History survives you.

There is no breakthrough without breakdown.

III.

If you’re going to break, shatter.
No explanations.
No limp-legged dog excuses.
No messing with this bullet proof vest fury
So popular with the cops and the presidents.

You’ve got to break like Texas.
You’ve got to take the pain from the safety valve of your heart
And return it to your fists.
Fight your better judgment ‘till you’re sinister again,
‘till your body remembers what it already knows how to do—
bend back
and manifest grief.
Scream torches ‘till you embarrass the enlightened.

Please. No more polite conversations with your death wish.
Give it something useful to do.
Change your life.

Cause I can’t stand to see you like this.
So blue, my eyes turn green in your presence.
Listen—you are so beautiful,
Grass pushes through sidewalk cracks just to kiss your feet.

IV.

Maybe no one ever told you,
But the heart IS a metaphor.
Yours is growing so strong
You’ll have your rhythm back any day now—

Loving like rumours spread.
Dreaming like lunatic spacemen jump from their suits.
Living like you never forgot how.


Untitled

If a man is only as good as his word,
then I want to marry a man with a vocabulary like yours.

The way you say dicey and delectable and octogenarian
in the same sentence— that really turns me on.
The way you describe the oranges in your backyard
using anarchistic and intimate in the same breath.

I would follow the legato and staccato of your tongue
wrapping around your diction
until listening become more like dreaming
and dreaming became more like kissing you.

I want to jump off the cliff of your voice
into the suicide of your stream of consciousness.
I want to visit the place in your heart where the wrong words die.
I want to map it out with a dictionary and points
of brilliant light until it looks more like a star chart
than a strategy for communication.
I want to see where your words are born.
I want to find a pattern in the astrology.

I want to memorize the scripts of your seductions.
I want to live in the long-winded epics of your disappointments,
in the haiku of your epiphanies.
I want to know all the names you’ve given your desires.
I want to find my name among them,

‘cause there is nothing more wrecking sexy than the right word.
I want to thank whoever told you
there was no such thing as a synonym.
I want to throw a party for the heartbreak
that turned you into a poet.

And if it is true that a man is only as good as his word
then, sweet jesus, let me be there
the first time you are speechless,
and all your explosive wisdom becomes
a burning ball of sun in your throat,
and all you can bring yourself to utter is, “oh god, oh god.”

Fight your better judgment ‘till you’re sinister again: five poems by Mindy Nettifee

Loving you has made me so scandalously beautiful: five poems by Brenda Shaughnessy

Me in Paradise

Oh, to be ready for it, unfucked, ever-fucked.
To have only one critical eye that never
divides a flaw from its lesson.

To play without shame. To be a woman
who feels only the pleasure of being used
and who reanimates the user’s

anguished release in a land
for the future to relish, to buy
new tights for, to parade in fishboats.

To scare up hope without fear of hope,
not holding the hole, I will catch
the superbullet in my throat

and feel its astounding force
with admiration. Absorbing its kind
of glory. I must be someone

with very short arms to have lost you,
to be checking the windows
of the pawnshop renting space in my head,

which pounds with all the clarity
of a policeman on my southernmost door.
To wish and not jinx it: to wish

and not fish for it: to wish and forget it.
To ratchet myself up with hot liquid
and find a true surprise.

Prowling the living room for the lightning,
just one more shock,
to bring my slow purity back.

To miss you without being so damn cold
all the time. To hold you without dying otherwise.
To die without losing death as an alternative.

To explode with flesh, without collapse.
To feel sick in my skeleton, in all the serious
confetti of my cells, and know why.

Loving you has made me so scandalously
beautiful. To give myself to everyone but you.
To luck out of you. To make any other mistake.


You’re Not Home, It’s Probably Better

I am calling to wish you well. I am calling because I want to
change something I said. A year ago you asked me three questions.
I thought you were asking my birthday wishes and answered all
wrong. If you remember (if I know you you’ll pretend you don’t)
I answered:

1) No, I have always been homely.
2) Yes I believe you have always been too lovely for anyone to
bear.
3) Silk. It is not always expensive, and it is impossible to tear.

It’s my birthday again and because I am cleverer now I can answer
you with more nerve. But because I am still me I am pitiless
enough to have your number and call you with this excuse to let
you know I am still alive (I won’t push it by telling you that I am
wonderful).

1) Yes. Thank you.
2) No. I found it a most repulsive photo.
3) Same. Though I don’t think of you, still it’s a near-perfect heat.
And so dear when ruined.


Project for a Fainting 

Oh, yes, the rain is sorry. Unfemale, of course, the rain is
with her painted face still plain and with such pixel you’d never see

it in the pure freckling, the lacquer of her. The world
is lighter with her recklessness, a handkerchief so wet it is clear.

To you. My withered place, this frumpy home (nearer
to the body than to evening) miserable beloved. I lie tender

and devout with insomnia, perfect on the center pillow past
midnight, sick with the thought of another year

of waking, solved and happy, it has never been this way! Believe
strangers who say the end is close for what could be closer?

You are my stranger and see how we have closed. On both ends.
Night wets me all night, blind, carried.

And watermarks. The plough of the rough on the slick,
love, a tendency toward fever. To break. To soil.

Would I dance with you? Both forever and rather die.
It would be like dying, yes. Yes I would.

I have loved the slaking of your forgetters, your indifferent
hands on my loosening. Through a thousand panes of glass

not all transparent, and the temperature.
I felt that. What you say is not less than that.


Drift

I’ll go anywhere to leave you but come with me.
All the cities are like you anyway. Windows
darken when I get close enough to see.
Any place we want to stay’s polluted,

the good spots taken already by those
who ruin them. And restaurants we’d never find.
We’d rut a ditch by a river in nights
so long they must be cut by the many pairs

of wrong-handled scissors maybe god owns
and doesn’t share. I water god.
I make a haunted lake and rinse and rinse.
I take what I want, and have ever since what

I want disappeared, like anything hunted.
That’s what you said. Disappointment
isn’t tender, dried and wide instead.
The tourists snapped you crying,

and the blanket I brought was so dirty
it must have been lying around
in lice and blood that whole year we fought.
It wasn’t clear, so I forgot.

I haven’t been sleeping, next to you
twitching to bury my boring eyes.
The ship made you sad, and the ferry, and canoe.
All boats do.


Postfeminism

There are two kinds of people, soldiers and women,
as Virginia Woolf said. Both for decoration only.

Now that is too kind. It’s technical: virgins and wolves.
We have choices now. Two little girls walk into a bar,

one orders a shirley temple. Shirley Temple’s pimp
comes over and says you won’t be sorry. She’s a fine

piece of work but she don’t come cheap. Myself, I’m
in less fear of predators than of walking around

in my mother’s body. That’s sneaky, that’s more
than naked. Let’s even it up: you go on fuming in your

gray room. I am voracious alone. Blank and loose,
metallic lingerie. And rare black-tipped cigarettes

in a handmade basket case. Which of us weaves
the world together with a quicker blur of armed

seduction: your war-on-thugs, my body stockings.
Ascetic or carnivore. Men will crack your glaze

even if you leave them before morning. Pigs
ride the sirens in packs. Ah, flesh, technoflesh,

there are two kinds of people. Hot with mixed
light, drunk on insult. You and me.

Loving you has made me so scandalously beautiful: five poems by Brenda Shaughnessy

Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love: seven poems by Billy Collins

Embrace

You know the parlor trick.
Wrap your arms around your own body
and from the back it looks like
someone is embracing you,
her hands grasping your shirt,
her fingernails teasing your neck.

From the front it is another story,
You never looked so alone,
your crossed elbows and screwy grin.
You could be waiting for a tailor
to fit you for a straightjacket,
one that would hold you really tight.


Marginalia

Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O’Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive—
“Nonsense.” “Please!” “HA!!”—
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
who wrote “Don’t be a ninny”
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls “Metaphor” next to a stanza of Eliot’s.
Another notes the presence of “Irony”
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
hands cupped around their mouths.
“Absolutely,” they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
“Yes.” “Bull’s-eye.” “My man!”
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written “Man vs. Nature”
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird singing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page—
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake’s furious scribbling.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents’ living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page

a few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil—
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet—
“Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love.”


The History Teacher

Trying to protect his students’ innocence
he told them the Ice Age was really just
the Chilly Age, a period of a million years
when everyone had to wear sweaters.

And the Stone Age became the Gravel Age,
named after the long driveways of the time.

The Spanish Inquisition was nothing more
than an outbreak of questions such as
“How far is it from here to Madrid?”
“What do you call the matador’s hat?”

The War of the Roses took place in a garden,
and the Enola Gay dropped one tiny atom on Japan.

The children would leave his classroom
for the playground to torment the weak
and the smart,
mussing up their hair and breaking their glasses,

while he gathered up his notes and walked home
past flower beds and white picket fences,
wondering if they would believe that soldiers
in the Boer War told long, rambling stories
designed to make the enemy nod off.


Litany

You are the bread and the knife,
The crystal goblet and the wine…
– Jacques Crickillon

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general’s head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman’s tea cup.
But don’t worry, I’m not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and – somehow – the wine.


I Go Back To The House For a Book

I turn around on the gravel
and go back to the house for a book,
something to read at the doctor’s office,
and while I am inside, running the finger
of inquisition along a shelf,
another me that did not bother
to go back to the house for a book
heads out on his own,
rolls down the driveway,
and swings left toward town,
a ghost in his ghost car,
another knot in the string of time,
a good three minutes ahead of me—
a spacing that will now continue
for the rest of my life.
Sometimes I think I see him
a few people in front of me on a line
or getting up from a table
to leave the restaurant just before I do,
slipping into his coat on the way out the door.
But there is no catching him,
no way to slow him down
and put us back in synch,
unless one day he decides to go back
to the house for something,
but I cannot imagine
for the life of me what that might be.
He is out there always before me,
blazing my trail, invisible scout,
hound that pulls me along,
shade I am doomed to follow,
my perfect double,
only bumped an inch into the future,
and not nearly as well-versed as I
in the love poems of Ovid—
I who went back to the house
that fateful winter morning and got the book.


The First Dream

The Wind is ghosting around the house tonight
and as I lean against the door of sleep
I begin to think about the first person to dream,
how quiet he must have seemed the next morning

as the others stood around the fire
draped in the skins of animals
talking to each other only in vowels,
for this was long before the invention of consonants.

He might have gone off by himself to sit
on a rock and look into the mist of a lake
as he tried to tell himself what had happened,
how he had gone somewhere without going,

how he had put his arms around the neck
of a beast that the others could touch
only after they had killed it with stones,
how he felt its breath on his bare neck.

Then again, the first dream could have come
to a woman, though she would behave,
I suppose, much the same way,
moving off by herself to be alone near water,

except that the curve of her young shoulders
and the tilt of her downcast head
would make her appear to be terribly alone,
and if you were there to notice this,

you might have gone down as the first person
to ever fall in love with the sadness of another.


Nightclub

You are so beautiful and I am a fool
to be in love with you
is a theme that keeps coming up
in songs and poems.
There seems to be no room for variation.
I have never heard anyone sing
I am so beautiful
and you are a fool to be in love with me,
even though this notion has surely
crossed the minds of women and men alike.
You are so beautiful, too bad you are a fool
is another one you don’t hear.
Or, you are a fool to consider me beautiful.
That one you will never hear, guaranteed.

For no particular reason this afternoon
I am listening to Johnny Hartman
whose dark voice can curl around
the concepts on love, beauty, and foolishness
like no one else’s can.
It feels like smoke curling up from a cigarette
someone left burning on a baby grand piano
around three o’clock in the morning;
smoke that billows up into the bright lights
while out there in the darkness
some of the beautiful fools have gathered
around little tables to listen,
some with their eyes closed,
others leaning forward into the music
as if it were holding them up,
or twirling the loose ice in a glass,
slipping by degrees into a rhythmic dream.

Yes, there is all this foolish beauty,
borne beyond midnight,
that has no desire to go home,
especially now when everyone in the room
is watching the large man with the tenor sax
that hangs from his neck like a golden fish.
He moves forward to the edge of the stage
and hands the instrument down to me
and nods that I should play.
So I put the mouthpiece to my lips
and blow into it with all my living breath.
We are all so foolish,
my long bebop solo begins by saying,
so damn foolish
we have become beautiful without even knowing it.

Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love: seven poems by Billy Collins

There’s Honey In The Paint: four poems by Melissa Stein

Hive

In the night, fear’s stepchild: all hail
the thinking brain. And ash in the fireplace
and in the stove. What am I doing with these
old-woman hands? They don’t belong to me.

There was one perfect moment of détente
where you called me the love of your life
but you were stoned and possibly on pills.
Your touch, iambic, when we met
and the rest, sheeted mirrors and grief.

Next door they’re perpetually building a house
of schadenfreude and light. They’re draping it
in butter-yellow paint. The bees will take up
residence. There’s honey in the paint.


Ring

Control was all
I wanted: a handle
on the day, the night
when it curved,
when it swayed,
when I could sense
the teeming stars
in light, in dark
the sun’s bare wire.
Some switch
to turn it off:
each shadow
pinned to each tree
like a radius
of some infant’s
milk it spilled.
And the leaves,
their gossip
of claw and beak
and wind and heat
and wing. Tether
lake to bank and
cloud to peak.
And weather it.
Weather it. All this
to say I’ve
taken off my ring.


Love Letter

I don’t know when the boys
began to walk away with parts of myself
in their sticky hands; when loving
became a process of subtraction. Or why,
having given up what seems so much,
I’m willing to lose even more — erasing
all this body’s known, relearning it with you.


Wings

i.
Blue dragonflies buzz me like warplanes.
Their wings taste of rock candy,
smell like cellophane, hum
like a dentist’s drill. I want it
in my palms, that isinglass, I want it
rooted to my bones. I want right-angled
flight. Their only cargo’s that long body, the burden
of flight itself—I had it once. The plank
gave way; the bridge was tall; the wind
was stiff. And I resigned. Because it was over
I was quite safe. When water came up
like asphalt I barely splashed. That was it.
I still feel that wind and the ache
in my shoulderblades for want of wings.
I still feel height and the clarity of it.

ii.
The drowned women in my dreams
have me at last; weed-strung hair,
weighted feet. Hope bloats:
I’ll carry them home, numb limbs
and all, tuck them into my sound
sheets. Comb their snarled hair
to silk. Stir them soup. Stoke
the woodstove. And sing, sing
lu lu lulu lu, hush-a-bye and
tie a yellow ribbon and this train
don’t pull no sleepers. Till they’re dreaming
in their soggy beds, dreaming of me, parched
field of brushfire grasses, bleached gold
and dangerous. Wave after wave
of heat, wave after wave of bodies
colliding in midair, torn wings still
better than ours, better than ours.

There’s Honey In The Paint: four poems by Melissa Stein