Out of the ash I rise with my red hair and I eat men like air: six poems by Sylvia Plath

Pursuit

Dans le fond des forêts votre image me suit.
– Racine

There is a panther stalks me down:
One day I’ll have my death of him;
His greed has set the woods aflame,
He prowls more lordly than the sun.
Most soft, most suavely glides that step,
Advancing always at my back;
From gaunt hemlock, rooks croak havoc:
The hunt is on, and sprung the trap.
Flayed by thorns I trek the rocks,
Haggard through the hot white noon.
Along red network of his veins
What fires run, what craving wakes?

Insatiate, he ransacks the land
Condemned by our ancestral fault,
Crying:  blood, let blood be spilt;
Meat must glut his mouth’s raw wound.
Keen the rending teeth and sweet
The singeing fury of his fur;
His kisses parch, each paw’s a briar,
Doom consummates that appetite.
In the wake of this fierce cat,
Kindled like torches for his joy,
Charred and ravened women lie,
Become his starving body’s bait.

Now hills hatch menace, spawning shade;
Midnight cloaks the sultry grove;
The black marauder, hauled by love
On fluent haunches, keeps my speed.
Behind snarled thickets of my eyes
Lurks the lithe one; in dreams’ ambush
Bright those claws that mar the flesh
And hungry, hungry, those taut thighs.
His ardor snares me, lights the trees,
And I run flaring in my skin;
What lull, what cool can lap me in
When burns and brands that yellow gaze?

I hurl my heart to halt his pace,
To quench his thirst I squander blook;
He eats, and still his need seeks food,
Compels a total sacrifice.
His voice waylays me, spells a trance,
The gutted forest falls to ash;
Appalled by secret want, I rush
From such assault of radiance.
Entering the tower of my fears,
I shut my doors on that dark guilt,
I bolt the door, each door I bolt.
Blood quickens, gonging in my ears:

The panther’s tread is on the stairs,
Coming up and up the stairs.


Insomniac

The night is only a sort of carbon paper,
Blueblack, with the much-poked periods of stars
Letting in the light, peephole after peephole —
A bonewhite light, like death, behind all things.
Under the eyes of the stars and the moon’s rictus
He suffers his desert pillow, sleeplessness
Stretching its fine, irritating sand in all directions.

Over and over the old, granular movie
Exposes embarrassments–the mizzling days
Of childhood and adolescence, sticky with dreams,
Parental faces on tall stalks, alternately stern and tearful,
A garden of buggy rose that made him cry.
His forehead is bumpy as a sack of rocks.
Memories jostle each other for face-room like obsolete film stars.

He is immune to pills: red, purple, blue —
How they lit the tedium of the protracted evening!
Those sugary planets whose influence won for him
A life baptized in no-life for a while,
And the sweet, drugged waking of a forgetful baby.
Now the pills are worn-out and silly, like classical gods.
Their poppy-sleepy colors do him no good.

His head is a little interior of grey mirrors.
Each gesture flees immediately down an alley
Of diminishing perspectives, and its significance
Drains like water out the hole at the far end.
He lives without privacy in a lidless room,
The bald slots of his eyes stiffened wide-open
On the incessant heat-lightning flicker of situations.

Nightlong, in the granite yard, invisible cats
Have been howling like women, or damaged instruments.
Already he can feel daylight, his white disease,
Creeping up with her hatful of trivial repetitions.
The city is a map of cheerful twitters now,
And everywhere people, eyes mica-silver and blank,
Are riding to work in rows, as if recently brainwashed.


Lady Lazarus

I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it—

A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,
My right foot

A paperweight,
My face a featureless, fine
Jew linen.

Peel off the napkin
O my enemy.
Do I terrify?—

The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day.

Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be
At home on me

And I a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.

This is Number Three.
What a trash
To annihilate each decade.

What a million filaments.
The peanut-crunching crowd
Shoves in to see

Them unwrap me hand and foot—
The big strip tease.
Gentlemen, ladies

These are my hands
My knees.
I may be skin and bone,

Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.
The first time it happened I was ten.
It was an accident.

The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.
I rocked shut

As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.

Dying
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.

It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.
It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.
It’s the theatrical

Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute
Amused shout:

‘A miracle!’
That knocks me out.
There is a charge

For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge
For the hearing of my heart—
It really goes.

And there is a charge, a very large charge
For a word or a touch
Or a bit of blood

Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.
So, so, Herr Doktor.
So, Herr Enemy.

I am your opus,
I am your valuable,
The pure gold baby

That melts to a shriek.
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.

Ash, ash—
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there—

A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling.

Herr God, Herr Lucifer
Beware
Beware.

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.


Mad Girl’s Love Song

“I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell’s fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan’s men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you’d return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)”


Love Letter

Not easy to state the change you made.
If I’m alive now, then I was dead,
Though, like a stone, unbothered by it,
Staying put according to habit.
You didn’t just tow me an inch, no-
Nor leave me to set my small bald eye
Skyward again, without hope, of course,
Of apprehending blueness, or stars.

That wasn’t it. I slept, say: a snake
Masked among black rocks as a black rock
In the white hiatus of winter-
Like my neighbors, taking no pleasure
In the million perfectly-chiseled
Cheeks alighting each moment to melt
My cheeks of basalt. They turned to tears,
Angels weeping over dull natures,

But didn’t convince me. Those tears froze.
Each dead head had a visor of ice.
And I slept on like a bent finger.
The first thing I was was sheer air
And the locked drops rising in dew
Limpid as spirits. Many stones lay
Dense and expressionless round about.
I didn’t know what to make of it.
I shone, mice-scaled, and unfolded
To pour myself out like a fluid
Among bird feet and the stems of plants.

I wasn’t fooled. I knew you at once.
Tree and stone glittered, without shadows.
My finger-length grew lucent as glass.
I started to bud like a March twig:
An arm and a leg, and arm, a leg.
From stone to cloud, so I ascended.
Now I resemble a sort of god
Floating through the air in my soul-shift
Pure as a pane of ice. It’s a gift.


Ode for Ted

From under the crunch of my man’s boot
green oat-sprouts jut;
he names a lapwing, starts rabbits in a rout
legging it most nimble
to sprigged hedge of bramble,
stalks red fox, shrewd stoat.

Loam-humps, he says, moles shunt
up from delved worm-haunt;
blue fur, moles have; hefting chalk-hulled flint
he with rock splits open
knobbed quartz; flayed colors ripen
rich, brown, sudden in sunlight.

For his least look, scant acres yield:
each finger-furrowed field
heaves forth stalk, leaf, fruit-nubbed emerald;
bright grain sprung so rarely
he hauls to his will early;
at his hand’s staunch hest, birds build.

Ringdoves roost well within his wood,
shirr songs to suit which mood
he saunters in; how but most glad
could be this adam’s woman
when all earth his words do summon
leaps to laud such man’s blood!

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Out of the ash I rise with my red hair and I eat men like air: six poems by Sylvia Plath

Given a second chance, I’d choose the blue: four poems by Helen Wickes

Cheerful Defense of the Realm

Once I used to be and desperately wanted,
but in the beginning I wondered,
though once upon a time I secretly knew.
At first I declared; then I believed.
After a while I noticed, but not enough.
In the end I still wanted. In the middle
I was lost, very lost. In the meantime
I complained. As a general rule I felt.
When it was over, I gently explained
how I had guessed according to the stars.
Apropos of nothing I apologize.
With hindsight I throw up my hands in praise.
Under the circumstances, I’ll take another.
Given a second chance, I’d choose the blue.


Single Thread

When I was a weaver, I chose
a red silk thread to get me to the heart
of my creation and then back out,
across the loom, to whatever life was waiting.

And when you found the little red pathway,
buried between warp and woof, you were sure
you’d found a flaw. Please remember what happens

when there’s no exit. Years of breathing
wool dust, reeking of lanolin, staring into coils
of green yarn and blue—you go dumb.

You’ve heard the story a thousand times—
that trapped fox, whining and snuffling
then biting her paw
through the bone, and running off into the night.

The mind wants this: a door in the wall,
an open field, a narrow path
through the woods, an open field


What You Hope For

The day trying its best to heat up,
the snow breathing cool off the mountains
in July. As the amber iris fades,
the golden mule ears open–it’s a yellow translation.

In the forest there are thrown-out tires,
a splayed-open fridge, old windows.
The moss on the trees is too bright,
a hot, green tangle. It’s hard to get away,
but from what, toward what?

A mashed place
in the rye grass where the deer sleep.
And then I find a tiny bird’s nest imprinted inside
by underbelly, heartbeat, but the outer twigs
roughed up by onslaught.

The loud camper passes, loaded down
with bikes and rowboat, dragging a jeep.
People together–an act of courage,
how they do this.

The beauty bounces off the surface,
the morning strokes the mist from the lake.
The day’s thin-skinned but not for long.

On the lake one canoe swerves,
then lurches. How worrisome
to watch the two people, cosseted
in their bosomy life jackets, jerkily stand up

and exchange words, exchange paddles.
Their bouncing boat soon rights itself. Ah well,
crying is not an option.

You can get love wrong again
and become an expert of the aftermath.

The climbing body thinks: left foot,
mariposa lily, right foot, three stones
;
three stones means a trail,
another person’s been here before us.

This high up there’s heat, granite,
and silence. A steady drizzle of pebbles
skittering down the slope.


Wait for Me

Thin light on the path ahead,
wavering, can’t see it,
now here again, your footsteps,
the starlight faint, fireflies’ light
muffled in the humid night air.
Can’t make out that sound
bird maybe animal, no matter,
a living being, a comfort.
You’ve gone on ahead,
following you is often boring,
exhausting, occasionally
thrilling—there’s a moment’s
respite to hear the creek’s
thin trickle, to smell the watercress
crushed underfoot—so bright,
so bitter. Wait for me, I’ll catch up
with you, any day now.

Given a second chance, I’d choose the blue: four poems by Helen Wickes

Ask the moon. Ask what it has witnessed: five poems by Linda Pastan

The Happiest Day

It was early May, I think
a moment of lilac or dogwood
when so many promises are made
it hardly matters if a few are broken.
My mother and father still hovered
in the background, part of the scenery
like the houses I had grown up in,
and if they would be torn down later
that was something I knew
but didn’t believe. Our children were asleep
or playing, the youngest as new
as the new smell of the lilacs,
and how could I have guessed
their roots were shallow
and would be easily transplanted.
I didn’t even guess that I was happy.
The small irritations that are like salt
on melon were what I dwelt on,
though in truth they simply
made the fruit taste sweeter.
So we sat on the porch
in the cool morning, sipping
hot coffee. Behind the news of the day–
strikes and small wars, a fire somewhere–
I could see the top of your dark head
and thought not of public conflagrations
but of how it would feel on my bare shoulder.
If someone could stop the camera then…
if someone could only stop the camera
and ask me: are you happy?
perhaps I would have noticed
how the morning shone in the reflected
color of lilac. Yes, I might have said
and offered a steaming cup of coffee.


I Married You

I married you
for all the wrong reasons,
charmed by your
dangerous family history,
by the innocent muscles, bulging
like hidden weapons
under your shirt,
by your naive ties, the colors
of painted scraps of sunset.

I was charmed too
by your assumptions
about me: my serenity—
that mirror waiting to be cracked,
my flashy acrobatics with knives
in the kitchen.
How wrong we both were
about each other,
and how happy we have been.


I Am Learning To Abandon The World

I am learning to abandon the world
before it can abandon me.
Already I have given up the moon
and snow, closing my shades
against the claims of white.
And the world has taken
my father, my friends.
I have given up melodic lines of hills,
moving to a flat, tuneless landscape.
And every night I give my body up
limb by limb, working upwards
across bone, towards the heart.
But morning comes with small
reprieves of coffee and birdsong.
A tree outside the window
which was simply shadow moments ago
takes back its branches twig
by leafy twig.
And as I take my body back
the sun lays its warm muzzle on my lap

as if to make amends.


The Answering Machine

I call and hear your voice
on the answering machine
weeks after your death,
a fledgling ghost still longing
for human messages.
Shall I leave one, telling
how the fabric of our lives
has been ripped before
but that this sudden tear will not
be mended soon or easily?
In your emptying house, others
roll up rugs, pack books,
drink coffee at your antique table,
and listen to messages left
on a machine haunted
by the timbre of your voice,
more palpable than photographs
or fingerprints. On this first day
of this first fall without you,
ashamed and resisting
but compelled, I dial again
the number I know by heart,
thankful in a diminished world
for the accidental mercy of machines,

then listen and hang up.


Why Are Your Poems So Dark?

Isn’t the moon dark too,
most of the time?

And doesn’t the white page
seem unfinished
.
without the dark stain
of alphabets?
.
When God demanded light,
he didn’t banish darkness.
Instead he invented
ebony and crows
.
and that small mole
on your left cheekbone.
.
Or did you mean to ask
“Why are you sad so often?”
 .
Ask the moon.
Ask what it has witnessed.

Ask the moon. Ask what it has witnessed: five poems by Linda Pastan

The keys that lock the door also open it: three poems by Richard Jackson

After All This

After all this love, after the birds rip like scissors
through the morning sky, after we leave, when the empty
bed appears like a collapsed galaxy, or the wake of
disturbed air behind a plane, after that, as the wind turns
to stone, as the leaves shriek, you are still breathing
inside my own breath. The lighthouse on the far point
still sweeps away the darkness with the brush of an arm.
The tides inside your heart still pull me towards you.
After all this, what are these words but mollusk shells
a child plays with? What could say more than the eloquence
of last night’s constellations? or the storm anchored by
its own flashes behind the far mountains? I remember
the way your body wavers under my touch like the northern
lights. After all this, I want the certainty of hidden roots
spreading in all directions from their tree. I want to hear
again the sky tangled in your voice. Some nights I can
hear the footsteps of the stars. How can these words
ever reveal the secret that waits in their sleeping light?
The words that walk through my mind say only what has
already passed. Beyond, the swallows are still knitting
the wind. After a while, the smokebush will turn to fire.
After a while, the thin moon will grow like a tear in a curtain.
Under it, a small boy kicks a ball against the wall of
a burned out house. He is too young to remember the war.
He hardly knows the emptiness that kindles around him.
He can speak the language of early birds outside our window.
Someday he will know this kind of love that changes
the color of the sky, and frees the earth from its moorings.
Sometimes I kiss your eyes to see beyond what I can imagine.
Sometimes I think I can speak the language of unborn stars.
I think the whole earth breathes with you. After all this,
these words are all I have to say what is impossible to think,
what shy dreams hide in the rafters of my heart, because
these words are only a form of touch, only tell you I have no life
that isn’t yours, and no death you couldn’t turn into a life.


Alternate Endings

There are times when they gather at the edge of your life,
Shadows slipping over the far hills, daffodils
blooming too early, the dark matter of the universe
that threads its way through the few thousand blackbirds
that have invaded the trees out back. Every ending

sloughs off our dreams like snakeskin. This is the kind of
black ice the mind skids across. The candlelight burning down
into the sand. The night leaving its ashes in our eyes.

There are times when your voice turns over in my sleep.
It is no longer blind. The sky is no longer deaf.

There are times when it seems the stars practice
all night just to become fireflies, when it seems there is
no end to what our hearts scribble on corridor walls.
Only when we look at each other do we cease to be ourselves.
Only at a certain height does the smoke blend into air.
There are times when your words seem welded to that sky.

There are times when love is so complicated it circles
like chimney swifts unable to decide where to land.
There are endings so sad their shadows scuff the dirt.
Their sky is as inconsolable as the two year old, Zahra,
torn from her mother and beaten to death in the Sudan.

There are endings so sad I want the morning light
to scourge the fields. Endings that are only what the river
dreams when it dries up. Endings that are constant echoes.

There are times when I think we are satellites collecting
dust from one of the earlier births of the universe Don’t give up.

Each ending is an hourglass filled with doors. There are times
when I feel you might be searching for me, when I can read
what is written on the far sides of stars. I’m nearly out of time.
My heart is a dragonfly. I’ll have to settle for this, standing under
a waterfall of words you never said. There are times like this
when no ending appears, times when I am so inconsolably happy.


Ten Things I Need To Know

The brightest stars are the first to explode. Also hearts. It is important to pay attention to love’s high voltage signs. The mockingbird is really ashamed of its own feeble song lost beneath all those he has to imitate. It’s true, the Carolina Wren caught in the bedroom yesterday died because he stepped on a glue trap and tore his wings off. Maybe we have both fallen through the soul’s thin ice already. Even Ethiopia is splitting off from Africa to become its own continent. Last year it moved 10 feet. This will take a million years. There’s always this nostalgia for the days when Time was so unreal it touched us only like the pale shadow of a hawk. Parmenedes transported himself above the beaten path of the stars to find the real that was beyond time. The words you left are still smoldering like the cigarette left in my ashtray as if it were a dying star. The thin thread of its smoke is caught on the ceiling. When love is threatened, the heart crackles with anger like kindling. It’s lucky we are not like hippos who fling dung at each other with their ridiculously tiny tails. Okay, that’s more than ten things I know. Let’s try twenty five, no, let’s not push it, twenty. How many times have we hurt each other not knowing? Destiny wears her clothes inside out. Each desire is a memory of the future. The past is a fake cloud we’ve pasted to a paper sky. That is why our dreams are the most real thing we possess. My logic here is made of your smells, your thighs, your kiss, your words. I collect stars but have no place to put them. You take my breath away only to give back a purer one. The way you dance creates a new constellation. Off the Thai coast they have discovered a new undersea world with sharks that walk on their fins. In Indonesia, a kangaroo that lives in a tree. Why is the shadow I cast always yours? Okay, let’s say I list 33 things, a solid symbolic number. It’s good to have a plan so we don’t lose ourselves, but then who has taken the ladder out of the hole I’ve dug for myself? How can I revive the things I’ve killed inside you? The real is a sunset over a shanty by the river. The keys that lock the door also open it. When we shut out each other, nothing seems real except the empty caves of our hearts, yet how arrogant to think our problems finally matter when thousands of children are bayoneted in the Congo this year. How incredible to think of those soldiers never having loved. Nothing ever ends. Will this? Byron never knew where his epic, Don Juan, would end and died in the middle of it. The good thing about being dead is that you don’t have to go through all that dying again. You just toast it. See, the real is what the imagination decants. You can be anywhere with the turn of a few words. Some say the feeling of out-of-the-body travel is due to certain short circuits in parts of the brain. That doesn’t matter because I’m still drifting towards you. Inside you are cumulous clouds I could float on all night. The difference is always between what we say we love and what we love. Tonight, for instance, I could drink from the bowl of your belly. It doesn’t matter if our feelings shift like sands beneath the river, there’s still the river. Maybe the real is the way your palms fit against my face, or the way you hold my life inside you until it is nothing at all, the way this plant droops, this flower called Heart’s Bursting Flower, with its beads of red hanging from their delicate threads any breeze might break, any word might shatter, any hurt might crush.

The keys that lock the door also open it: three poems by Richard Jackson

I will kiss you when I cut up one dozen new men: eight poems by Anne Sexton

You All Know the Story of the Other Woman

It’s a little Walden.
She is private in her breathbed
as his body takes off and flies,
flies straight as an arrow.
But it’s a bad translation.
Daylight is nobody’s friend.
God comes in like a landlord
and flashes on his brassy lamp.
Now she is just so-so.
He puts his bones back on,
turning the clock back an hour.
She knows flesh, that skin balloon,
the unbound limbs, the boards,
the roof, the removable roof.
She is his selection, part time.
You know the story too! Look,
when it is over he places her,
like a phone, back on the hook.


Again and Again and Again

You said the anger would come back
just as the love did.

I have a black look I do not
like. It is a mask I try on.
I migrate toward it and its frog
sits on my lips and defecates.
It is old. It is also a pauper.
I have tried to keep it on a diet.
I give it no unction.

There is a good look that I wear
like a blood clot. I have
sewn it over my left breast.
I have made a vocation of it.
Lust has taken plant in it
and I have placed you and your
child at its milk tip.

Oh the blackness is murderous
and the milk tip is brimming
and each machine is working
and I will kiss you when
I cut up one dozen new men
and you will die somewhat,
again and again.


Admonitions to a Special Person

Watch out for power,
for its avalanche can bury you,
snow, snow, snow, smothering your mountain.

Watch out for hate,
it can open its mouth and you’ll fling yourself out
to eat off your leg, an instant leper.

Watch out for friends,
because when you betray them,
as you will,
they will bury their heads in the toilet
and flush themselves away.

Watch out for intellect,
because it knows so much it knows nothing
and leaves you hanging upside down,
mouthing knowledge as your heart
falls out of your mouth.

Watch out for games, the actor’s part,
the speech planned, known, given,
for they will give you away
and you will stand like a naked little boy,
pissing on your own child-bed.

Watch out for love
(unless it is true,
and every part of you says yes including the toes) ,
it will wrap you up like a mummy,
and your scream won’t be heard
and none of your running will end.

Love? Be it man. Be it woman.
It must be a wave you want to glide in on,
give your body to it, give your laugh to it,
give, when the gravelly sand takes you,
your tears to the land. To love another is something
like prayer and can’t be planned, you just fall
into its arms because your belief undoes your disbelief.

Special person,
if I were you I’d pay no attention
to admonitions from me,
made somewhat out of your words
and somewhat out of mine.
A collaboration.
I do not believe a word I have said,
except some, except I think of you like a young tree
with pasted-on leaves and know you’ll root
and the real green thing will come.

Let go. Let go.
Oh special person,
possible leaves,
this typewriter likes you on the way to them,
but wants to break crystal glasses
in celebration,
for you,
when the dark crust is thrown off
and you float all around
like a happened balloon.


Killing the Love

I am the love killer,
I am murdering the music we thought so special,
that blazed between us, over and over.
I am murdering me, where I kneeled at your kiss.
I am pushing knives through the hands
that created two into one.
Our hands do not bleed at this,
they lie still in their dishonor.
I am taking the boats of our beds
and swamping them, letting them cough on the sea
and choke on it and go down into nothing.
I am stuffing your mouth with your
promises and watching
you vomit them out upon my face.
The Camp we directed?
I have gassed the campers.

Now I am alone with the dead,
flying off bridges,
hurling myself like a beer can into the wastebasket.
I am flying like a single red rose,
leaving a jet stream
of solitude
and yet I feel nothing,
though I fly and hurl,
my insides are empty
and my face is as blank as a wall.

Shall I call the funeral director?
He could put our two bodies into one pink casket,
those bodies from before,
and someone might send flowers,
and someone might come to mourn
and it would be in the obits,
and people would know that something died,
is no more, speaks no more, won’t even
drive a car again and all of that.

When a life is over,
the one you were living for,
where do you go?

I’ll work nights.
I’ll dance in the city.
I’ll wear red for a burning.
I’ll look at the Charles very carefully,
wearing its long legs of neon.
And the cars will go by.
The cars will go by.
And there’ll be no scream
from the lady in the red dress
dancing on her own Ellis Island,
who turns in circles,
dancing alone
as the cars go by.


The Kiss

My mouth blooms like a cut.
I’ve been wronged all year, tedious
nights, nothing but rough elbows in them
and delicate boxes of Kleenex calling crybaby
crybaby, you fool!

Before today my body was useless.
Now it’s tearing at its square corners.
It’s tearing old Mary’s garments off, knot by knot
and see – Now it’s shot full of these electric bolts.
Zing! A resurrection!

Once it was a boat, quite wooden
and with no business, no salt water under it
and in need of some paint. It was no more
than a group of boards. But you hoisted her, rigged her.
She’s been elected.

My nerves are turned on. I hear them like
musical instruments. Where there was silence
the drums, the strings are incurably playing. You did this.
Pure genius at work. Darling, the composer has stepped
into fire.


Her Kind

I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.

I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.

I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.

From Eighteen Days Without You

December 11th

Then I think of you in bed,
your tongue half chocolate, half ocean,
of the houses that you swing into,
of the steel wool hair on your head,
of your persistent hands and then
how we gnaw at the barrier because we are two.

How you come and take my blood cup
and link me together and take my brine.
We are bare. We are stripped to the bone
and we swim in tandem and go up and up
the river, the identical river called Mine
and we enter together. No one’s alone.


For My Lover, Returning to His Wife

She is all there.
She was melted carefully down for you
and cast up from your childhood,
cast up from your one hundred favorite aggies.

She has always been there, my darling.
She is, in fact, exquisite.
Fireworks in the dull middle of February
and as real as a cast-iron pot.

Let’s face it, I have been momentary.
A luxury. A bright red sloop in the harbor.
My hair rising like smoke from the car window.
Littleneck clams out of season.

She is more than that. She is your have to have,
has grown you your practical your tropical growth.
This is not an experiment. She is all harmony.
She sees to oars and oarlocks for the dinghy,

has placed wild flowers at the window at breakfast,
sat by the potter’s wheel at midday,
set forth three children under the moon,
three cherubs drawn by Michelangelo,

done this with her legs spread out
in the terrible months in the chapel.
If you glance up, the children are there
like delicate balloons resting on the ceiling.

She has also carried each one down the hall
after supper, their heads privately bent,
two legs protesting, person to person,
her face flushed with a song and their little sleep.

I give you back your heart.
I give you permission—

for the fuse inside her, throbbing
angrily in the dirt, for the bitch in her
and the burying of her wound—
for the burying of her small red wound alive—

for the pale flickering flare under her ribs,
for the drunken sailor who waits in her left pulse,
for the mother’s knee, for the stockings,
for the garter belt, for the call—

the curious call
when you will burrow in arms and breasts
and tug at the orange ribbon in her hair
and answer the call, the curious call.

She is so naked and singular.
She is the sum of yourself and your dream.
Climb her like a monument, step after step.
She is solid.

As for me, I am a watercolor.
I wash off.

I will kiss you when I cut up one dozen new men: eight poems by Anne Sexton

When I don’t touch you it’s a mistake in any life, in each place and forever: three poems by Bob Hicok

Heroin

Imagine spring’s thaw, your brother said,
each house a small rain, the eaves muttering
like rivers and you the white skin
the world sheds, your flesh unfolded

and absorbed. You walked Newark together,
tie loosened, a silk rainbow undone,
his fatigues the flat green of summer’s end,
all blood drained from the horizon.

It would have been easier had you music
to discuss, a common love for one
of the brutal sports, if you shared
his faith that breath and sumac are more

alike than distinct, mutations of the same
tenacity. You almost tried it for him,
cinced a belt around your arm, aimed
a needle at the bloated vein, your window

open to July’s guant wind and the radio
dispersing its chatty somnolence. When
he grabbed your wrist, his rightful face
came back for a moment: he was fifteen

and standing above Albert Ramos, fists
clenched, telling the boy in a voice
from the Old Testament what he’d do if certain
cruelties happened again. Loosening the belt,

you walked out, each straight and shaking,
into the hammering sun, talked of the past
as if it were a painting of a harvested field,
two men leaning against dusk and pitchforks.

That night he curled up and began to die,
his body a pile of ants and you on the floor,
ripping magazines into a mound of words
and faces, touching his forehead with the back

of your hand in a ritual of distress, fading
into the crickets’ metered hallucination.
When in two days he was human again, when
his eyes registered the the scriptures of light,

when he tried to stand but fell and tried
again, you were proud but immediately
began counting days, began thinking
his name were written in a book

locked in a safe on a sunken ship,
a sound belonging to water, to history,
and let him go, relinquished him
to the strenuous work of vanishing.


Backward Poem

The poem ends in death so I’ll walk it

backward home. The heart of an 87 year-old woman
starts on July 7th and immediately doctors
syringe morphine from her veins

and her daughter puts a tissue

together and steps from the room. There’s
a general turning from dark to light
and what she said to grandchildren

then she says to grandchildren now

only the words face the other way and blood
removes itself from scraped knees and all
her photographs resolve to black

as she lowers the camera from her eye

and sleeps it back into the box. She waves
as if erasing the sky amid the turned-around
hissing of the ocean and the elated

leaves retrieve their green and jump
into the trees and sex culminates with something
like warm proximity, a simple radiant fact.
Remembering her body old, she frets

the evaporation of liver spots

and tightening of skin, interrogates the mirror
as gravity gives the curves back and begins
her first date with my grandfather

operating a quick stranger’s stride.

And soon I’ll send the poem the other way and soon
she’ll turn soft in bed as my mother shreds a blue
and powdery thing into finer dust

and just before the inevitable

I’ll write a baby seeing the sky for the first time
floats with antecedent, which naturally molts
to the last wind to touch the body

is all the body becomes. If time’s

no more than the flesh of space arching its back, what’s
to stop the limber words from making geraniums
bloom in winter, what’s to bind

my grandmother to an oath of death?

I declare her young now and leaning on a sill with color
supplying the field, throats of the flowers open
to the pilgrimage of bees, the sun

dead above hoarding the shadows for itself.


Other Lives and Dimensions and Finally a Love Poem

My left hand will live longer than my right. The rivers
of my palms tell me so.
Never argue with rivers. Never expect your lives to finish
at the same time. I think

praying, I think clapping is how hands mourn. I think
staying up and waiting
for paintings to sigh is science. In another dimension this
is exactly what’s happening,

it’s what they write grants about: the chromodynamics
of mournful Whistlers,
the audible sorrow and beta decay of Old Battersea Bridge.
I like the idea of different

theres and elsewheres, an Idaho known for bluegrass,
a Bronx where people talk
like violets smell. Perhaps I am somewhere patient, somehow
kind, perhaps in the nook

of a cousin universe I’ve never defiled or betrayed
anyone. Here I have
two hands and they are vanishing, the hollow of your back
to rest my cheek against,

your voice and little else but my assiduous fear to cherish.
My hands are webbed
like the wind-torn work of a spider, like they squeezed
something in the womb

but couldn’t hang on. One of those other worlds
or a life I felt
passing through mine, or the ocean inside my mother’s belly
she had to scream out.

Here, when I say I never want to be without you,
somewhere else I am saying
I never want to be without you again. And when I touch you
in each of the places we meet,

in all of the lives we are, it’s with hands that are dying
and resurrected.
When I don’t touch you it’s a mistake in any life,
in each place and forever.

When I don’t touch you it’s a mistake in any life, in each place and forever: three poems by Bob Hicok

A most extraordinary pain mingles with the small routines: five poems by Brian Patten

Sometimes It Happens

And sometimes it happens that you are friends and then
You are not friends,
And friendship has passed.
And whole days are lost and among them
A fountain empties itself.

And sometimes it happens that you are loved and then
You are not loved,
And love is past.
And whole days are lost and among them
A fountain empties itself into the grass.

And sometimes you want to speak to her and then
You do not want to speak,
Then the opportunity has passed.
Your dreams flare up, they suddenly vanish.

And also it happens that there is nowhere to go and then
There is somewhere to go,
Then you have bypassed.
And the years flare up and are gone,
Quicker than a minute.

So you have nothing.
You wonder if these things matter and then
As soon you begin to wonder if these things matter
They cease to matter,
And caring is past.
And a fountain empties itself into the grass.


And Nothing Is Ever As You Want It To Be

You lose your love for her and then
It is her who is lost,
And then it is both who are lost,
And nothing is ever as perfect as you want it to be.

In a very ordinary world
A most extraordinary pain mingles with the small routines,
The loss seems huge and yet
Nothing can be pinned down or fully explained.

You are afraid.
If you found the perfect love
It would scald your hands,
Rip the skin from your nerves,
Cause havoc with a computered heart.

You lose your love for her and then it is her who is lost.
You tried not to hurt and yet
Everything you touched became a wound.
You tried to mend what cannot be mended,
You tried, neither foolish nor clumsy,
To rescue what cannot be rescued.

You failed,
And now she is elsewhere
And her night and your night
Are both utterly drained.

How easy it would be
If love could be brought home like a lost kitten
Or gathered in like strawberries,
How lovely it would be;
But nothing is ever as perfect as you want it to be.


Angel Wings

In the morning I opened the cupboard
and found inside it a pair of wings,
a pair of angel’s wings.
I was not naive enough to believe them real.
I wondered who had left them there.

I took them out the cupboard,
brought them over to the light by the window
and examined them.
You sat in the bed in the light by the window grinning.

‘They are mine,’ you said;
You said that when we met
you’d left them there.

I thought you were crazy.
Your joke embarrassed me.
Nowadays even the mention of the word angel
embarrasses me.

I looked to see how you’d stuck the wings together.
Looking for glue, I plucked out the feathers.
One by one I plucked them till the bed was littered,

‘They are real,’ you insisted,
your smile vanishing.
And on the pillow your face grew paler.
Your hands reached to stop me but
for some time now I have been embarrassed by the word angel.

For some time now in polite or conservative company
I have checked myself from believing
anything so untouched and yet so touchable
had a chance of existing.

I plucked then
till your face grew even paler;
intent on proving them false
I plucked
and your body grew thinner.
I plucked till you all but vanished.

Soon beside me in the light,
beside the bed in which you were lying
was a mass of torn feathers;
glueless, unstitched, brilliant,
reminiscent of some vague disaster.

In the evening I go out alone now.
You say you can no longer join me.
You say
Ignorance has ruined us,
disbelief has slaughtered.

You stay at home
listening on the radio
to sad and peculiar music,
who fed on belief,
who fed on the light I’d stolen.

Next morning when I opened the cupboard
out stepped a creature,
blank, dull, and too briefly sensual
it brushed out the feathers gloating.
I must review my disbelief in angels.


Party Piece

He said:

‘Let’s stay here
Now this place has emptied
And make gentle pornography with one another,
While the partygoers go out
And the dawn creeps in,
Like a stranger.

Let us not hesitate
Over what we know
Or over how cold this place has become,
But let’s unclip our minds
And let tumble free
The mad, mangled crocodile of love.’

So they did,
There among the woodbines and guinness stains,
And later he caught a bus and she a train
And all there was between them then
was rain.


The Newcomer

‘There’s something new in the river,’
The fish said as it swam.
‘It’s got no scales, no fins and no gills,
And ignores the impassable dam.’

‘There’s something new in the trees.’
I heard a bloated thrush sing.
‘It’s got no beak, no claws, and no feathers,
And not even the ghost of a wing.’

‘There’s something new in the warren,’
Said the rabbit to the doe.
‘It’s got no fur, no eyes and no paws,
Yet digs further than we dare go.’

‘There’s something new in the whiteness,’
Said the snow-bright polar bear.
‘I saw its shadow on a glacier,
But it left no pawmarks there.’

Through the animal kingdom
The news was spreading fast.
No beak, no claws, no feather,
No scales, no fur, no gills,
It lives in the trees and the water,
In the soil and the snow and the hills,
And it kills and it kills and it kills.

A most extraordinary pain mingles with the small routines: five poems by Brian Patten