“Spoiler” – Hala Alyan

Can you diagnose fear? The red tree blooming from uterus
to throat. It’s one long nerve, the doctor says. There’s a reason
breathing helps, the muscles slackening like a dead marriage.
Mine are simple things. Food poisoning in Paris. Hospital lobbies.
My husband laughing in another room. (The door closed.)
For days, I cradle my breast and worry the cyst like a bead.
There’s nothing to pray away. The tree loves her cutter.
The nightmares have stopped, I tell the doctor. I know why.
They stopped because I baptized them. This is how my mother
and I speak of dying–the thing you turn away by letting in.
I’m tired of April. It’s killed our matriarchs and, in the back yard,
I’ve planted an olive sapling in the wrong soil. There is a droopiness
to the branches that reminds me of my friend, the one who calls
to ask what’s the point, or the patients who come to me, swarmed
with misery and astonishment, their hearts like newborns after
the first needle. What now, they all want to know. What now.
I imagine it like a beach. There is a magnificent sand castle
that has taken years to build. A row of pink seashells for gables,
rooms of pebble and driftwood. This is your life. Then comes the affair,
nagging bloodwork, a freeway pileup. The tide moves in.
The water eats your work like a drove of wild birds. There is debris.
A tatter of sea grass and blood from where you scratched your own arm
trying to fight the current. It might not happen for a long time,
but one day you run your fingers through the sand again, scoop a fistful out,
and pat it into a new floor. You can believe in anything, so why not believe
this will last? The seashell rafter like eyes in the gloaming.
I’m here to tell you the tide will never stop coming in.
I’m here to tell you whatever you build will be ruined, so make it beautiful.

Published in the print edition of the New Yorker September 28, 2020, issue.

“Letters from a poet who sleeps in a chair” – Nicanor Parra

V

Young poets
Write any way you want to
In whatever style you please
Too much blood has gone under the bridge
To go on believing–I believe–
that only one road is right:
In poetry everything is permitted. 

“Emergency Management” – Camille Rankine

The sun eats away at the earth, or the earth eats away
at itself and burning up,

I sip at punch.
So well practiced at this
living. I have a way of seeing

things as they are: it’s history
that’s done this to me.
It’s the year I’m told

my body will turn rotten,
my money talks but not enough,
I feel my body turn
against me.

Some days I want to spit
me out, the whole mess of me,
but mostly I am good

and quiet.
How much silence buys me

mercy, how much
silence covers all the lives it takes to make me.

In the event of every day and its newness
of disaster, find me sunning on the rooftop, please
don’t ask anything of me.

If I could be anything
I would be the wind,

if I could be nothing
I would be.

“The Dalliance of Eagles” – Walt Whitman

Skirting the river road, (my forenoon walk, my rest,)
Skyward in air a sudden muffled sound, the dalliance of the eagles,
The rushing amorous contact high in space together,
The clinching interlocking claws, a living, fierce, gyrating wheel,
Four beating wings, two beaks, a swirling mass tight grappling,
In tumbling turning clustering loops, straight downward falling,
Till o’er the river pois’d, the twain yet one, a moment’s lull,
A motionless still balance in the air, then parting, talons loosing,
Upward again on slow-firm pinions slanting, their separate diverse flight,
She hers, he his, pursuing.


*Whitman himself had never seen the mating of eagles but wrote the poem – with much reworking – from a description given him by the naturalist John Burroughs.

 

“IX. PÈRE LACHAISE” – David St. John

The names that have been unnamed arise, cold & clear
as the inscriptions upon the virgin stone. There, the rubies shone
against the onyx; there, those charnel house weathers, & the love
that must emerge like love. On the other side of the world, my
best friend dressed only in small brass cymbals. They were the size
of quarters & linked by either wire or cord. He had no idea what it
meant. He knew only as he moved each movement was announced by
the most glorious sound, chimes & rattles & an iridescence in the ear –
the golden weather of himself shimmering everywhere. When they
found him later, dead, they said how pagan he’d become in his nakedness, in his glory.

– from The Auroras

“Modern Times” – Nicanor Parra

These are calamitous times we’re living through
you can’t speak without committing a contradiction 
or keep quiet without complicity with the Pentagon.
Everyone knows there’s no alternative possible
all roads lead to Cuba
but the air is dirty
breathing is a futile act.
The enemy says
the country is to blame
as if countries were men.
Accursed clouds circle accursed volcanos 
accursed embarkations launch accursed expeditions
accursed trees crumble on accursed birds:
it was all polluted to begin with.

“Anthracite” – Saeed Jones

A voice mistook for stone,
jagged black fist

thrown miles through space, through
doors of dark matter.

Heard you crack open the field’s skull
where you landed.

Halo of smoke ruined the sky
and you were a body now

naked and bruised in the cratered cotton.
Could have been a meteorite

except for those strip-mined eyes, each
a point of fossilized night.

Bringing water and a blanket,
I asked, “Which of your lives is this,

third or fifth?” Your answer, blues
a breeze to soak my clothes

in tears. With my palm pressed
to your lips, hush. When they hear

you, they will want you. Beware
of how they want you;

in this town everything born black
also burns.
 

From Prelude to Bruise. Copyright © 2014 Saeed Jones.

“Nothing Gold Can Stay” – Robert Frost

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

“Door in the Mountain” – Jean Valentine

Never ran this hard through the valley

never ate so many stars

 

I was carrying a dead deer

tied on to my neck and shoulders

 

deer legs hanging in front of me

heavy on my chest

 

People are not wanting

to let me in

 

Door in the mountain

let me in

“White Power” — Major Jackson

As it happened, I was twirling a cauliflower floret,
lost in Lewis’s wardrobe of pallid trees,
considering my country’s longing for homogenized milk
& bags of tube socks from Walmart,
which felt cancerous. What came to me like a surprise
snowfall in the soft evening of a snow globe,
one has to pinch salt and sprinkle in the palm,
repeatedly, especially when the temperature in mother’s
   trailer
has begun to drop. In this way, after your Constitution fades
you’ve your own hourglass and no one else to blame.