Poetry

“Blue Dementia” – Yusef Komunyakaa

In the days when a man
would hold a swarm of words
inside his belly, nestled
against his spleen, singing.

In the days of night riders
when life tongued a reed
till blues & sorrow song
called out of the deep night:
Another man done gone.
Another man done gone.

In the days when one could lose oneself
all up inside love that way,
& then moan on the bone
till the gods cried out in someone’s sleep.

Today,
already I’ve seen three dark-skinned men
discussing the weather with demons
& angels, gazing up at the clouds
& squinting down into iron grates
along the fast streets of luminous encounters.

I double-check my reflection in plate glass
& wonder, Am I passing another
Lucky Thompson or Marion Brown
cornered by a blue dementia,
another dark-skinned man
who woke up dreaming one morning
& then walked out of himself
dreaming? Did this one dare
to step on a crack in the sidewalk,
to turn a midnight corner & never come back
whole, or did he try to stare down a look
that shoved a blade into his heart?
I mean, I also know something
about night riders & catgut. Yeah,
honey, I know something about talking with ghosts.

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Poetry

“Song” – Adrienne Rich

You’re wondering if I’m lonely:
OK then, yes, I’m lonely
as a plane rides lonely and level
on its radio beam, aiming
across the Rockies
for the blue-strung aisles
of an airfield on the ocean.

You want to ask, am I lonely?
Well, of course, lonely
as a woman driving across country
day after day, leaving behind
mile after mile
little towns she might have stopped
and lived and died in, lonely

If I’m lonely
it must be the loneliness
of waking first, of breathing
dawn’s first cold breath on the city
of being the one awake
in a house wrapped in sleep

If I’m lonely
it’s with the rowboat ice-fast on the shore
in the last red light of the year
that knows what it is, that knows it’s neither
ice nor mud nor winter light
but wood, with a gift for burning.

From Diving into the Wreck: Poems 1971-1972. Adrienne Rich.

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Poetry

“Publication is the Auction” – Emily Dickinson

Publication – is the Auction
Of the Mind of Man –
Poverty – be justifying
For so foul a thing

Possibly – but We – would rather
From Our Garret go
White – unto the White Creator –
Than invest – Our Snow –

Thought belong to Him who gave it –
Then – to Him Who bear
It’s Corporeal illustration – sell
The Royal Air –

In the Parcel – Be the Merchant
Of the Heavenly Grace –
But reduce no Human Spirit
To Disgrace of Price –

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Poetry

“The Opposite of Nostalgia” – Eric Gamalinda

You are running away from everyone
who loves you,
from your family,
from old lovers, from friends.

They run after you with accumulations
of a former life, copper earrings,
plates of noodles, banners
of many lost revolutions.

You love to say the trees are naked now
because it never happens
in your country. This is a mystery
from which you will never

recover. And yes, the trees are naked now,
everything that still breathes in them
lies silent and stark
and waiting. You love October most

of all, how there is no word
for so much splendor.
This, too, is a source
of consolation. Between you and memory

everything is water. Names of the dead,
or saints, or history.
There is a realm in which
—no, forget it,

it’s still too early to make anyone understand.
A man drives a stake
through his own heart
and afterwards the opposite of nostalgia

begins to make sense: he stops raking the leaves
and the leaves take over
and again he has learned
to let go.

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Poetry

“Forget” – Czeslaw Milosz

[English version by Robert Hass]

Forget the suffering
You caused others.
Forget the suffering
Others caused you.
The waters run and run,
Springs sparkle and are done,
You walk the earth you are forgetting.

Sometimes you hear a distant refrain.
What does it mean, you ask, who is singing?
A childlike sun grows warm.
A grandson and a great-grandson are born.
You are led by the hand once again.

The names of the rivers remain with you.
How endless those rivers seem!
Your fields lie fallow,
The city towers are not as they were.
You stand at the threshold mute.

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Poetry

“Difference” – Mark Doty

 

The jellyfish
float in the bay shallows
like schools of clouds,

a dozen identical–is it right
to call them creatures,
these elaborate sacks

of nothing? All they seem
is shape, and shifting,
and though a whole troop

of undulant cousins
go about their business
within a single wave’s span,

every one does something unlike:
this one a balloon
open on both ends

but swollen to its full expanse,
this one a breathing heart,
this a pulsing flower.

This one a rolled condom,
or a plastic purse swallowing itself,
that one a Tiffany shade,

this a troubled parasol.
This submarine opera’s
all subterfuge and disguise,

its plot a fabulous tangle
of hiding and recognition:
nothing but trope,

nothing but something
forming itself into figures
then refiguring,

sheer ectoplasm
recognizable only as the stuff
of metaphor. What can words do

but link what we know
to what we don’t,
and so form a shape?

Which shrinks or swells,
configures or collapses, blooms
even as it is described

into something unlikely
marine chiffon:
a gown for Isadora?

Nothing but style.
What binds
one shape to another

also sets them apart
–but what’s lovelier
than the shapeshifting

transparence of like and as:
clear, undulant words?
We look at alien grace,

unfettered
by any determined form,
and we say: balloon, flower, 

heart, condom, opera
lampshade, parasol, ballet.
Hear how the mouth,

so full
of longing for the world,
changes its shape?

 

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Poetry

“Milk” – Kevin Pilkington

On a warm night in upstate
New York during the summer
of 1948, Charlie Parker got out
of a brand new Pontiac, the bass
player from his quintet was behind
the wheel. Clubs along 57th Street
were an hour behind them. Parker
had grabbed the case with his sax
in it from the back seat and walked
out onto a field. He was off drugs,
clean for at least six months
but knew he’d never be clean
as the air he breathed.

A herd of cows watched him walk
in front of them, place the case
on the grass, open it and take out
a bent piece of sky the color of dawn.
Then he blew on it as his fingers
like a flock of small dark birds flew
up and down. The cows listened, stopped
chewing but couldn’t prevent their tails
from swinging like the Basie rhythm
section. Sounds they never heard
came out of a hole in the sky.
Then it stopped. He placed it back
in the box and walked away. Within
hours the green grass they began
chewing again turned the milk in
bellies white.

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Poetry

“On Cold Days Like This” – Kevin Pilkington

I hear a cape flapping over
my head, convinced this time
it’s Superman. When I look up
to greet him, it turns out to be
the flag over the doors of the Second
Avenue Post Office. The wind
is so strong I notice it lost a star
and wonder if maybe Utah is now
floating over New Jersey.

The traffic is heavy as cheesecake
and sounds like the Basie horn
section tuning up before a gig.
A guy walks over with a cigarette
in his mouth and asks if I got
a light. As I search my pockets
I notice his boots and cowboy
hat and figure he must be from
the West Side. I can’t find any–
consider the torch I’d been carrying
around for my ex but remember I put
it out a few days ago, tell him sorry.

And she was the same woman
who told me if we ever broke up
I’d be lost without her. Before
I got involved again, I made sure
to know every section of the city
until I knew it like the back
of my hand or when most of Second
Avenue ran down my index finger
towards my wrist. On cold days
like this, I can warm up my hands
and at least thirty blocks by simply
putting on my gloves.

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