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.

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

I will soften like the light of morning: three poems by Tania De Rozario

A Hundred Ways To Say Your Name

I avoid speaking your name in conversation,
throwing it to the air as if it were nothing
more than an assumption of you; it is my last
mode of defence. The last item of clothing
to discard before I realise I’m naked in public.

Because they can hear it in my voice. I know.
Even in that one short syllable that means
everything and nothing; your name is as common
as you are rare. As easy as you are not.
As simple as love should be, but never is.

But when I’m alone, I tie my tongue softly
round the familiar sound, as if pronouncing
with conviction the phonetics of desire
will cause time to pause just long enough
for the earth to hear me naming my loss.


Without You

Before we parted, she told me this: she believed
we were soulmates, that in our next life, we would meet

again. I wanted to tell her that I knew nothing of this
next life she spoke of, and little of this current life

we seemed to be fucking up, that all I understand is
now-­‐the weight of the nod compelled by something

outside oneself: Yes, we say. I give in, we say. I will soften
like the light of morning, remember how it felt waking up

to love. I wanted to tell her that I don’t know if I believe
in easy tomorrows, am doubtful even more of second

chances for those who throw first chances away. What I do
know: we will watch years form lines across our faces;

that in your absence, I understand death, understand that
we are nothing more than fossils pressed together

by emergency; that I want more than anything
to write you poetry while I am able; not risk re-­‐birth

into a body whose heart is a knot tangled in the guts
of language; that even as you break us open like an

unkept promise, I will not watch my life go on without you.


The First Face You Saw

I wanted mine to be the first face you saw
coming out of surgery: lingering at the mouth
of the operating theatre. I imagined blood
as I waited; bodies at the mercy of discerning
hands, cut open by strangers. I remember
you recounting biology lessons, dissecting
an animal and the humbling truth of its insides
for the first time. “Everything fit perfectly”. We

do not collapse into each like that, the way
lovers should. You are open like the best
endings, I am a conclusion wound tight around
secrets: Words left over from the last time
I loved. You are right: I find no beauty
in the everyday, in leaves coaxed by gravity
to ground, in the symmetry between soil
and sky. You should know by now: I write

because I cannot connect, cannot marry
miracle to matter, metaphor to meaning,
head to heart: This anesthesia I am under
will not wear off like love, drugs, this thing
that is us: Yet still, I wait. Will breathe
again as your body is rolled back towards
mine: You are mine, if only for now. Slipping
out of sleep: Let my face be the first you see.

I will soften like the light of morning: three poems by Tania De Rozario

Whatever falls is a figure of rain: four poems by Andrew Zawacki

Credo

You say wind is only wind
and carries nothing nervous

in its teeth. I do not believe it.
I have seen leaves desist from moving

although the branches move,
and I believe a cyclone has secrets

the weather is ignorant of. I believe
in the violence of not knowing.

I’ve seen a river lose its course
and join itself again, watched it court

a stream and coax the stream
into its current, and I have seen rivers,

not unlike you, that failed to find
their way back. I believe the rapport

between water and sand, the advent
from mirror to face. I believe in rain

to cover what mourns, in hail that revives
and sleet that erodes, believe

whatever falls is a figure of rain,
and now I believe in torrents that take

everything down with them.
The sky calls it quits, or so I believe,

when air, or earth, or air has had
enough. I believe in disquiet,

the pressure it plies, believe a cloud
to govern the limits of night. I say I,

but little is left to say it, much less
mean it—and yet I do. Let there be

no mistake. I do not believe
things are reborn in fire.

I believe they’re consumed by fire,
and the fire has a life of its own.


Begins in Interruption

Begins in interruption:
an ambulance bell at the center

of sleep, the room tilts
sideways, furniture slides,

an octet of amber blue
verres à liqueur, one with a cut

at the lip, clatters as a quaalude
light in tatters mattes the

curtains ormolu:

                               I miss you

is what I want to say
like a rocket

stocked from the Reagan
years, its radar gone haywire,

wiring fried but
live inside a bunker of some

private Soviet
Union you & I —


Agrapha

Giving up isn’t giving in, but a different kind of poverty
And if we didn’t mention them all in order, it wasn’t our fault:
Our strength gave out before the daylight tapered,
Schedules were strict, the weddings obliged to go forward

Even with strangers involved, and sisters and mothers of strangers,
Playing Russian roulette with five bullets coughed into the chamber
And swallow the razor and other old parlor games,
Keeping appointments with overcoats and nautical charts of the crime

While someone kept telling lies about factory bylaws, saying
Don’t be afraid, I have called you by name, you are mine
And almost believing it, a survivor peddling insomnia’s cure,
Calculating which bridges to burn, which heretics, which beds:

A package that never arrived from a mispronounced province
Or a lightswitch left on overnight at the back of the hall,
Rehearsing the wreckage of telegrams, padlocks, and skeleton keys
And storms on the coast with other betrayers to please.


Vespers

Architecture it’s not, not even in winter.
Nor is it a draft of a river
to be put away for a lover to polish up later
after the nails have been paid. Nor
is it the finished thing
even if it has the look of a finished thing. In winter
but it is not winter, it’s almost a year ago. Water
that’s moving cannot be called a trigger
but almost a need. Our bodies are not architecture,
they’re moving, they have been put away by October.
A draft of an almost finished river
is not a crowblue cloud at the end of winter, but after
accounts have been paid, years later, a whisper
is polished up to have the look of architecture.
October has the look of a crow in a river. It’s a year
ago, our bodies are four-fifths water. Your
body is polished up to have the look of moving water.
Clouds are four-fifths of winter, but whatever
is almost crowblue or moving cannot be called architecture
or put away for our bodies to polish up later.
I did not say nails had been put away, or paid for
with our bodies’ whispered accounts. I did not say fever
or finished, or after; I did not call winter a need. I never
said I had been nailed to a river
even if you had the look of what’s already left.

Whatever falls is a figure of rain: four poems by Andrew Zawacki