“Body & Kentucky Bourbon” – Saeed Jones

In the dark, my mind’s night, I go back
to your work-calloused hands, your body

and the memory of fields I no longer see.
Cheek wad of chew tobacco,

Skoal-tin ring in the back pocket
of threadbare jeans, knees

worn through entirely. How to name you:
farmhand, Kentucky boy, lover.

The one who taught me to bear
the back-throat burn of bourbon.

Straight, no chaser, a joke in our bed,
but I stopped laughing; all those empty bottles,

kitchen counters covered with beer cans
and broken glasses. To realize you drank

so you could face me the morning after,
the only way to choke down rage at the body

sleeping beside you. What did I know
of your father’s backhand or the pine casket

he threatened to put you in? Only now,
miles and years away, do I wince at the jokes:

white trash, farmer’s tan, good ole boy.
And now, alone, I see your face

at the bottom of my shot glass
before my own comes through.

 

 

 

 

From Prelude to Bruise. Copyright © 2014 Saeed Jones.

climbing

a woman precedes me up the long rope,
her dangling braids the color of rain.
maybe i should have had braids.
maybe i should have kept the body i started,
slim and possible as a boy’s bone.
maybe i should have wanted less.
maybe i should have ignored the bowl in me
burning to be filled.
maybe i should have wanted less.
the woman passes the notch in the rope
marked Sixty. i rise toward it, struggling,
hand over hungry hand.

“i am running into a new year” – Lucille Clifton

i am running into a new year
and the old years blow back
like a wind
that i catch in my hair
like strong fingers like
all my old promises and
it will be hard to let go
of what i said to myself
about myself
when i was sixteen and
twentysix and thirtysix
even thirtysix but
i am running into a new year
and i beg what i love and
i leave to forgive me

—Lucille Clifton (1936-2010)

“The Layers” – Stanley Kunitz

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

excerpt from “At the Sea Floor Exploration, Sarah Asks” – W.J. Herbert

Ghost fish, tail flapping
like a translucent scrap
of linen in the wind,
flag of surrender
with a spine inside,
eyes riding on slow
light through the deep
ocean’s darkness:

Do you know what my mother
was looking for? —

from “At the Sea Floor Exploration Exhibit, Sarah Asks”

“Memoir” – Vijay Seshadri

Orwell says somewhere that no one ever writes the real story of their life.
The real story of a life is the story of its humiliations.
If I wrote that story now–
radioactive to the end of time —
people, I swear, your eyes would fall out, you couldn’t peel
the gloves fast enough
from your hands scorched by the firestorms of that shame.
Your poor hands. Your poor eyes
to see me weeping in my room
or boring the tall blonde to death.
Once I accused the innocent.
Once I bowed and prayed to the guilty.
I still wince at what I once said to the devastated widow.
And one October afternoon, under a locust tree
whose blackened pods were falling and making
illuminating patterns on the pathway,
I was seized by joy,
and someone saw me there,
and that was the worst of all,
lacerating and unforgettable.

Excerpt from Bluets – Maggie Nelson

90. Last night I wept in a way I haven’t wept for some time. I wept until I aged myself. I watched it happen in the mirror. I watched the lines arrive around my eyes like engraved sunbursts; it was like watching flowers open in time-lapse on a windowsill. the tears not only aged my face, they also changed its texture, turned the skin of my cheeks into putty. I recognized this was a rite of decadence, but I did not know how to stop it.

91. Blue-eye, archaic: “a blueness or dark circle around the eye, from weeping or other cause.”

92. Eventually I confess to a friend some details about my weeping–its intensity, its frequency. She says (kindly) that she thinks we sometimes weep in front of a mirror not to inflame self-pity, but because we want to feel witnessed in our despair. (Can a reflection be a witness? Can one pass oneself the sponge wet with vinegar from a reed?)

93. “At first glance, it seems strange to think that an innocuous, inborn behavior such as crying could be dysfunctional or symptomatic,” writes one clinical psychologist. But, this psychologist insists, we must face the fact that some crying is simply “maladaptive, dysfunctional, or immature.”

94. — Well then, it is as you please. This is the dysfunction talking. This is the disease talking. This is how much I miss you talking. This is the deepest blue, talking, talking, always talking to you.

95. But please don’t write again to tell me how you have woken up weeping. I already know how you are in love with your weeping.

Excerpt from “A Wild Perfection” – James Wright

A Letter from James Wright to Mary Oliver

Cupertino, California
July 10, 1965

Dear Miss Oliver:

I hardly expect that you will actually read this note, because the address on the envelope is incomplete. But I will go ahead and write it for my own sake. I have loved your poems for a long time, but until I found and read your book (Poems to a Brown Cricket, No Voyage an Other Poems), I hadn’t realized how much they had come to mean to me. It is an extraordinarily beautiful book that you’ve written, and it haunts me in some secretly desolated place in myself where I had not hoped to see anything green come alive ever again.

Am I correct in remembering that you once wrote to me? Or am I simply imagining things? I recall a dreadfully unhappy letter from you, which heartened me. At the time I was quite ill; and, before I could answer your letter, I lost it. I hope you will forgive me. I have lost so many things. So many.

Till the very end of this summer I will be staying with a couple of very old friends here in California. I don’t know why I tell you this. Of course, I am a liar. I know perfectly well why. If you should receive this note, and if you should find a moment, and if you should feel patience, I would be truly grateful to hear from you. I have been laboring heavily from time to time on a new book of my own. It has been pretty jagged and difficult going, and the example of your book has given me some of he encouragement which I sorely need.

Wherever you are, and whether or not you even read my words, thank you for writing your book.

Sincerely,

James Wright