Tom Daley: My Mother Revisits the Scene of a Tryst with My Father at the Great Falls of the Potomac
There was the roar
of your skin, there
was your sweat
whistling itself upriver,
there were our goosebump hairs
like squares in a net.
There was our rouse, our
there where I dreamed you
perpetually salt-hot and shy.
I remember your girth,
the three quilts
you spread on the rocks
where we sat all afternoon
infesting the trillium
with our half-hour kisses
and our exultant sobs.
Far away and later, the speechless,
bleached contours of your jaw
that night we stalled
in the Parkway’s maw.
We cracked to desolation then,
our edges nubbled
and milky as the windshield glass
glimmering in the breakdown lanes.
I still buckle
under the old taste
of your tongue’s slow bruise;
still fret, marking your hand,
mute and sly,
where it once worked its furious glee.
I still listen for your torso
tuned square as a suitcase,
for the vows we soothed
with crossed fingers.
Here in rapids
jostling a bilious remorse,
I drag back to your rampages
as accomplice with scar.
This poem originally appeared in The Briar Cliff Review, 2013
Tom Daley leads writing workshops at the Online School of Poetry, Boston Center for Adult Education, and Lexington Community Education. His poetry appears or is forthcoming in Witness, Consequence, Massachusetts Review, 32 Poems, Fence, Harvard Review, Denver Quarterly, Conte, Barrow Street, Prairie Schooner, Diagram, and Rhino. He is a recipient of 2012 Dana Award in Poetry, the Charles and Fanny Fay Wood Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets, and was the winner of the Wag’s Revue Winter Writers Contest (2013). He is the author of a play, Every Broom and Bridget—Emily Dickinson and Her Irish Servants, which he performs as a one-man show.
Bernadette Darnell: Marriage
All right, my father was not
the big man I say he was.
Here’s a picture of me as a child
climbing his knee.
Look, how he was
small boned, precise
in life, delicate in death
as dust and as quickly gone.
You will never make it up.
My mouth is always open.
Hungry old bird, my greed
knows no bounds.
In dreams we bring the dead
alive and those green shoots
we used to be as well.
We scare ourselves.
In daylight we drink coffee
and forget. Give us a taste,
love, that first bit of morning
sky on your spoon.
Bernadette Darnell has a MA from the University of New Hampshire where she studied with Charles Simic. She lives is Amesbury and is a teacher in Newburyport, Massachusetts.
Jarita Davis: Defining the Morna
I want the violin strings that scrape along
this voice’s tremor to make an image
for you, a piney rosemary bush I can
run my palms up the sides of, offer
my cupped hands to your nose and mouth
to breathe its swoon from my damp skin
full and heavy and pleading to be held,
these images should have more water
like poems that come to me in the shower
and shake my footing loose from the tub
as I teeter and slip and hear my own voice
calling “please don’t—“ above the falling water
the night we left the shutters open
to the old rolling sea scraping back
the sand and chasing itself into the ocean
the salt waves’ voice sang the same,
but it was entirely new, you and I, lying
together in bed, lying too close to touch
I step from the shower, wipe the water
from my shoulders — there should be
more water—forgetting something, that poem
given to me before I caught myself
from falling, and stood upright again
under the warm slippery spray
this is the morna, a hymn to longing,
a lyric of faded illusions from a voice
forgotten in the wet, begging without
remembering why the scent of rosemary
leaves us faint and how a moment that waits
for dawn makes old serenades our own
Jarita Davis has a Ph.D. in creative writing from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and was the writer in residence at the Nantucket Historical Association. She has received fellowships from the Mellon Mayes program, Cave Canem, Hedgebrook and the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. In addition, she was awarded a Woodrow Wilson Travel Research Grant, a Neiheisel Phi Beta Kappa Award and a grant from the Louisiana Division of the Arts. Her work has appeared in the Southwestern Review, Historic Nantucket, Cave Canem Anthologies, Crab Orchard Review, Plainsongs and Tuesday; An Art Project. Most recently her manuscript As if Returning Home was chosen by Yusef Komunyakaa as a finalist for the Cave Canem First Book Prize.
Oliver de la Paz: How I Learned Quiet
Begin with slowness—the drag of a candle’s flame
down to the guard, and the pump of blood into the heart
as it sinks in the rib cage. Everything was spectacle.
Mother pinched me for squirming. The timetables lied. The games
were un-winnable. The priest looked down upon me
and lo, I was a fidgeting thing. God was in the desert
feeding me cactus flowers and locusts. I sank
my cheek between my teeth and listened
to the helicopters above us. Someone coughed. Someone
held up their hands and let fabric slide down to his elbows.
From Requiem for the Orchard; courtesy of Verse Daily
Oliver de la Paz was born in the Philippines and raised in Ontario, Oregon, and he earned both a BA in English and a BS in biology from Loyola Marymount University, followed by an MFA from Arizona State University. He is the author of four collections of poetry, Names Above Houses (SIU Press 2001), Furious Lullaby (SIU Press 2007), Requiem for the Orchard (U. of Akron Press 2010) and the forthcoming Post Subject: A Fable (U. of Akron Press 2014). Requiem for the Orchard was chosen for the Akron Prize by notable award-winning poet Martín Espada. Read our story on him, part of our Massachusetts Poetry Festival 2014 feature poet series, here.
Lori Desrosiers: The Balance Stone
after a sculpture of the same name by Isamu Noguchi
there used to be another stone
the ghost stone is not there
above the stone that is
the stone that is is on the roof
of the building where air passes
through windows that are not there
like the quartz gathered in the woods
near the house a child used to live in
who used to be me
the ghost of the child
is balanced on the roof
of what I have forgotten
~ From Sometimes I Hear the Clock Speak, Salmon Poetry, 2016
Lori Desrosiers' poetry books are The Philosopher’s Daughter, Salmon Poetry, 2013, and Sometimes I Hear the Clock Speak, Salmon Poetry, 2016. A chapbook, Inner Sky, is from Glass Lyre Press. Her poems have appeared in New Millenium Review, Contemporary American Voices, Best Indie Lit New England, String Poet, Blue Fifth Review, Pirene's Fountain, The New Verse News, The Mom Egg, The Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish-American Poetry and many other journals and anthologies. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She edits Naugatuck River Review, a journal of narrative poetry, and WORDPEACE, an online journal dedicated to peace and justice. She teaches Literature and Composition at Westfield State University and Holyoke Community College, and Poetry in the Interdisciplinary Studies program for the Lesley University M.F.A. graduate program.http://loridesrosierspoetry.com
Lisa DeSiro: Babel Tree
Not a tower. An evergreen
speaking as if in tongues.
She might have said it sounds
like a mob of children
crammed inside a classroom,
or a multitude of tiny chimes
ringing inside a church.
It’s on my street, this tree,
in front of one of the old houses
we admired while walking
back from the grocery store
(even that short trip tired her)
during her last visit,
Mother’s Day weekend.
The house is blue, with a little yard
and a statue family: cats, rabbits, raccoons,
presided over by Saint Francis.
Congregated beneath the boughs,
steadfast behind their fence,
a quiet captive audience
for the evergreen’s babbling.
The Birds of North America
(her copy of the book) explains:
common sparrows often cluster,
clamoring, hidden in bushes and trees;
“when interrupted by suspicious noise”
their voices shut.
Like today when I walked by
as usual thinking of Francis House
and the tree fell
silent as I passed.
(published in Sixfold)
Lisa DeSiro is a writer and pianist. Originally from Baldwinsville, NY, she has resided in Boston since 1993 and in Cambridge since 2008. Her poems have appeared in various print and online publications, and have been set to music by several composers. She's also recently begun submitting to presses; her full-length manuscript was a semi-finalist for The Word Works Washington Prize, and one of her chapbook manuscripts was a finalist for the Paper Nautilus Debut Series contest. Along with her MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University, Lisa has degrees from Binghamton University, The Boston Conservatory, and Longy School of Music. She is employed as Editorial & Production Assistant for C.P.E. Bach: The Complete Works. Previously she earned her living as an accompanist, vocal coach, teacher, and administrator. You can read more about her at https://thepoetpianist.com/.s
Judith Dickerman-Nelson: Interrogation/English test
The computer feels no pain,
knows no heartache,
shows only the words
I am supposed to read:
I have one brother and one sister,
what about you?
The student looks bewildered,and since test rules
allow one repetition,
I ask again and then move
to the next question
when there is still
Do you come from a large family
or from a small family?
She shakes her head,
stares past me,
and I think I see
behind her averted gaze
Before the soldiers
Before the killings
large groups playing
children of all ages
splashing in puddles
left after the rain.
Judith Dickerman-Nelson is a graduate of UMass Lowell and Emerson College. Her poetry and prose have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. She has taught college at UMass Lowell and for fifteen years worked at the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association in Lowell, MA.
Her book of poems, Spirits Dancing Into Light, was published by Loom Press, and her memoir, Believe in Me: A Teen Mom's Story, was published by Jefferson Park Press.
Maggie Dietz: The Yellow House, 1978
The kitchen in the house had a nook for eating, a groove
for the broom behind the door and the woman moved through
it like bathing, reaching ladles from drawers, turning to lift
the milk from the refrigerator while still stirring the pudding,
as if the room and everything in it were as intimate to her as her
body, as beautiful and worthy of her attention as the elbows
which each day she soothed with rose lotion or the white legs
she lifted, again and again, in turn, while watching television.
To be in that room must be what it was like to be the man
next to her at night, or the child who, at six o’clock, had stood
close enough to smell the wool of her sweater through the steam,
and later, at the goodnight kiss, could breathe the flavor of her hair—
codfish and broccoli—and taste the coffee, which was darkness
on her lips, and listen then from upstairs to the water running
down, the mattress drifting down the river, a pale moonmark
on the floor, and hear the clink of silverware—the stars, their distant
speaking—and trust the ceiling—the back of a woman kneeling,
holding up the bed, the roof, the cooling sky and covering the heart.
Maggie Dietz returns to the festival in 2012. Her first book of poems Perennial Fall (University of Chicago Press) won the 2007 Jane Kenyon Award for Outstanding Book of Poetry. For many years she directed the Favorite Poem Project, Robert Pinsky’s special undertaking during his tenure as U.S. Poet Laureate, and is coeditor of three anthologies related to the, most recently An Invitation to Poetry. Her awards include the Grolier Poetry Prize, the George Bennett Fellowship at Phillips Exeter Academy, as well as fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts. Her work has appeared widely in journals such as Poetry, Ploughshares, Agni, Harvard Review and Salmagundi. She teaches at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and is assistant poetry editor for the online magazine Slate. Dietz lives in New Hampshire with her husband, the poet Todd Hearon, and their four-year-old twins.
Kristine Doll: My Friends
My friends are poets.
Breathing duende into souls,
setting lives on fire.
They stay up long past bed-time
translating the wondrous.
Do they never sleep?
I hear them chiseling words,
smell them in my sheets,
taste them in meals of dark birds.
And when they leave –
~“My Friends are Poets.” Original Poem. Imaginne i Poesia. Torino, Italy, April 2013.
~Cross-Cultural Communications Art & Poetry Series Broadside #53, Summer 2013.
~Nominated for the XXXIX Pushcart Prize for Poetry of the Best Small Presses, November 2013.
Kristine Doll (Boston, MA) is the author of the poetry collection Speak to Me Again (Feral Press, 2014). She has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize in Poetry. She is also a translator of Catalan poetry, including her translations into English of Joan Alcover’s Elegies (Cross-Cultural, 2004) and the poetry of the Catalan writers, August Bover and Teresa D’Arenys. Doll recently guest edited a special issue of The Seventh Quarry dedicated to Catalan poetry in translation: Six Catalan Poets. (The Seventh Quarry Press: Wales UK, 2015). Doll’s translations and her own poetry have been published internationally in such venues as The Seventh Quarry, Cross-Cultural Communications Art & Poetry Series Broadsides, The Paterson Literary Review, Gargoyle and Immagine i Poesia. She is Professor of World Languages and Cultures at Salem State University, Salem MA, USA.
Patrick Donnelly: Jesus said to me Did you mean
to draw some moral
from your own life, how you found love
so late? How though you weren’t patient,
weren’t kind, in pursuit were ruthless,
it was given to you anyway? Though
that story’s not done, not proven,
you have some wisdom to share
with the loveless now,
something they should or shouldn’t do?
The gay boy, the raped girl, the libeled widow
(Jesus now resting his abraded hand on the book)?
Go ahead then, speak.
Promise them something.
~This poem, which appeared in the American Poetry Review, is the first poem of Donnelly’s 15-poem sequence JESUS SAID. Mudlark will publish the entire sequence as an online chapbook in summer 2016.
Patrick Donnelly is the author of The Charge (Ausable Press, 2003, since 2009 part of Copper Canyon Press) and Nocturnes of the Brothel of Ruin, (Four Way Books, 2012). He is director of the Poetry Seminar at The Frost Place, a nonprofit center for poetry and the arts at Robert Frost’s old homestead in Franconia, NH. With Stephen D. Miller, Donnelly is co-translator of the Japanese poems in The Wind from Vulture Peak: The Buddhification of Japanese Waka in the Heian Period (Cornell East Asia Series, 2013), which was awarded the 2015-2016 Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Prize for the Translation of Japanese Literature from the Donald Keene Center of Japanese Culture at Columbia University. Donnelly is the recipient of a U.S./Japan Creative Artists Program fellowship, an Artist Fellowship from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and an Amy Clampitt Residency Award. He is the 2015 – 2017 Poet Laureate of Northampton, Massachusetts. Website: http://www.patrickdonnellypoems.com
Susan Donnelly: Kevin
At a kitchen table in Ireland,
tea steeping under its knit cosy,
magpie policing the back lawn,
my host begins to talk of you,
something you liked, or said,
adds God rest his soul on a breath,
goes on with her story.
But I don’t hear the rest,
must shade my eyes suddenly.
Are you really not anywhere then?
Did you just disappear,
ashes strewn in a Galway river?
Four words, said by her so easily,
for me, a bafflement I could spend
my whole life unable to express.
Susan Donnelly’s latest poetry collection is Capture the Flag. She is the author of two other collections: Morse Prize winner Eve Names the Animals and Transit. Two new chapbooks will be published in 2015. Her poetry has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, Prairie Schooner, Salamander, Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry and many other journals, textbooks and anthologies. Featured several times on Writers Almanac and on Poetry Daily, her poems appear on several websites and blogs. Her poem “Chanson on the Red Line’ is a Common Threads choice for 2016. Susan gives frequent readings in the Boston area. She lives, writes and teaches poetry in Arlington, Massachusetts.
Frances Donovan : Tresspassers
It used to be part of the wood,
but now it’s good
real estate: new house,
hardscape, azalea shrubs.
The mossy path contains me
but nothing contains the deer
beyond what’s left of the barren woods
their elegant trespass
blesses the driveway
as they lip the buds and turn
to salute me
with a long, slow leap
with a white-tailed flag
Frances Donovan’s work has appeared in journals such as Borderlands, Snapdragon, Marathon Literary Review, Oddball Magazine, and The Writer. An MFA candidate at Lesley University, she curated the Poetry@Prose reading series and has appeared as a featured reader at numerous venues. She once drove a bulldozer while wearing a bustier in a GLBT Pride parade. You can find her climbing hills in Roslindale and online at www.gardenofwords.com.
Wendy Drexler: BEETLE
His black-shellacked body
lay belly up on the basement floor,
everything in him already
decided, the huge husk of him—
three sections knuckle-coupled
like train cars: the thorax scribed
with scarabs, compact as a flower bulb,
the abdomen hinged to his tiny head,
and inside that, the minuscule brain
that mounted his little music, day
and night issued meek and fierce
instructions to himself in his dark city.
And refused what? And raced where?
Sought what solace scuttling?
And did he notice or not the tepid light
squinting through smeared windows?
Did he brace his legs against the spin
of the washer’s thrum? Nothing more
for him but this one hard look—to memorize
the six matched dancers of his legs,
each curving toward its partner in a series
of jointed etceteras all the way out
to the hooks, barbed, and beyond,
the ardent tips that almost touch.
Originally published in The Mid-American Review
Wendy Drexler’s new collection, Before There Was Before, will be published by Iris Press in March 2017. She is the author of Western Motel, published by Turning Point (2012), and a chapbook, Drive-ins, Gas Stations, the Bright Motels (Pudding House, 2007), which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her poems have appeared in Barrow Street, Ibbetson Street, Nimrod, Off the Coast, Prairie Schooner, Salamander, The Mid-American Review, The Hudson Review, The Worcester Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and other journals; featured on Verse Daily and WBUR’s Cognoscenti; and in the anthologies Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust and Burning Bright: Passager Celebrates 21 Years. A three-time Pushcart Prize nominee, she is a native of Denver, Colorado, and now lives in Belmont with her husband. She is a freelance editor and has been a poetry editor for the Massachusetts Audubon Society. “This poem,” she writes, “was an exercise in forcing myself to examine something that initially really repulsed me; in the end, I came to love that beetle.”
Amy Dryansky: "Maybe this poem isn’t about the soul"
but it could be about distraction, static,
white noise salting the air. Open your mouth
and catch it on your tongue. It might taste
sad, like yearning, white sails coming home
or leaving again. You might need to say
if you’re on board, declare colors, finally
undertake that tutorial on knots. Up, over,
around and through. Square, slip or noose.
You could start with that frayed painter
trailing its insignificant wake. Not the soul,
but ripples. Not distraction, doubt. You could
stand up in the boat. Try out your legs.
That is, if you’re feeling something you can’t
put a finger on: high summer’s December
undercurrent numbing your ankles, soul
loose on its moorings, bump, drift, bump.
Amy Dryansky’s newest poetry collection, Grass Whistle, was released in 2013 by Salmon Poetry and received the Massachusetts Book Award for poetry. Her first book, How I Got Lost So Close To Home, was published by Alice James and individual poems have appeared in a variety of anthologies and journals. Dryansky is Assistant Director of the Culture, Brain & Development Program at Hampshire College, and a former Associate at the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center at Mt. Holyoke College, where she looked at the impact of motherhood on the work of women poets. Check out her web site.
Valerie Duff: Flood
Old Burying Ground, Church Street, Cambridge
Thumbed cockeyed through the bus rush,
slates in shrouds of coats flung dark
against that dirty birch gone hunchback,
sounds that aren’t wilderness. A honey locust
leaves a jigsaw path, loose scripts around the lot,
washing over settlers who came here first,
who said, we will, of course, we will.
And so I’d heard that I should promise
anything, so when my injured father
changed his plan to boats, I agreed.
The country vanished, surface of a proud mirage.
Lights changed direction, traffic, orbit.
The only living man who’s in this scene,
a post almost, lies homeless near these littered
ancient skiffs that wave a semaphore
of nicks made hourglass and death’s head.
Originally published in The Prague Review.
Valerie Duff’s To the New World (Salmon Poetry) was shortlisted for the 2011 Seamus Heaney Centre Prize for Poetry. Her poems have appeared in The Common, Prague Revue, Blackbox Manifold, PN Review, Poetry Northeast, Poetry Daily, Antioch Review, and other journals. Her reviews and writings have appeared in the The Wolf, The Boston Globe, The Journal, and The San Francisco Chronicle. She has received grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and St. Botolph Foundation for her work, as well as a fellowship from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.
Carol Ann Duffy: Peggy Guggenheim
Peggy, Peggy Guggenheim,
favourite drink Italian wine.
Peggy, Peggy Guggenheim,
favourite smell is turpentine.
Peggy, Peggy Guggenheim,
favourite jeans by Calvin Klein.
Peggy, Peggy Guggenheim,
favourite herb is lemon thyme.
Peggy, Peggy Guggenheim,
favourite fruit a Tuscan lime.
Peggy, Peggy Guggenheim,
favourite art Venetian mime.
Peggy, Peggy Guggenheim,
favourite tree a creeping vine.
Peggy, Peggy Guggenheim,
favourite statue free of grime.
Peggy, Peggy Guggenheim,
favourite poem has to rhyme
with Peggy, Peggy Guggenheim.
Carol Ann Duffy is a Scottish poet and playwright. She is Professor of Contemporary Poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University, and was appointed Britain's poet laureate in May 2009. She is the first woman, the first Scot, and the first openly LGBT person to hold the position. Her collections include Standing Female Nude (1985), winner of a Scottish Arts Council Award; Selling Manhattan (1987), which won a Somerset Maugham Award; Mean Time (1993), which won the Whitbread Poetry Award; and Rapture (2005), winner of the T. S. Eliot Prize. Her poems address issues such as oppression, gender, and violence, in an accessible language that has made them popular in schools. Duffy is also a playwright, and her children's collections include Meeting Midnight (1999) and The Oldest Girl in the World (2000).
Stephen Dunn: What Goes On
After the affair and the moving out,
after the destructive revivifying passion,
we watched her life quiet
into a new one, her lover more and more
on its periphery. She spent many nights
alone, happy for the narcosis
of the television. When she got cancer
she kept it to herself until she couldn’t
keep it from anyone. The chemo debilitated
and saved her, and one day
her husband asked her to come back —
his wife, who after all had only fallen
in love as anyone might
who hadn’t been in love in a while —
and he held her, so different now,
so thin, her hair just partially
grown back. He held her like a new woman
and what she felt
felt almost as good as love had,
and each of them called it love
because precision didn’t matter anymore.
And we who’d been part of it,
often rejoicing with one
and consoling the other,
we who had seen her truly alive
and then merely alive,
what could we do but revise
our phone book, our hearts,
offer a little toast to what goes on.
Stephen Dunn is the author of 16 collections of poetry, including the recent Here and Now and What Goes On: Selected & New Poems 1995–2009. Different Hours won the Pulitzer Prize in 2001, and Loosestrife was a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist in 1996. His other W.W. Norton books are New & Selected Poems: 1974–1994, Landscape at the End of the Century, Between Angels, and Riffs & Reciprocities: Prose Pairs. Local Time (William Morrow & Co.) was a winner of The National Poetry Series in 1986. A new and expanded edition of Walking Light: Memoirs and Essays on Poetry, was issued by BOA Editions, Ltd. in 2001.The winner of many awards and fellowships, Dunn is Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, but spends most of his time these days in Frostburg, Maryland, where he lives with wife the writer Barbara Hurd.
Edison Dupree: A Postcard from New Mexico
(Mimbres painted bowl, c. 1100)
Two humpbacked rabbits spin,
two pillows in a washing machine,
white nose to white rump,
counterclockwise. Men dug them up
to watch, to catch them going at it
like yin and yang. But both are just white
clay slip, just gaps in the black paint
of outer space, where a body can’t
stop tumbling forever, let alone
lie down with anyone.
This is the negative signature
of their anonymous Rabbit Master,
the caption says. And it’s reading me,
my strange late-middle-aged tale of you
and me and the Master, she
who was female, very likely,
and painted jokes for the dead.
A soup bowl for a grave good.
It’s terrible, being buried alone.
You get this vessel to travel in,
but it’s already been pierced
and sunk. As if that ritual last
sharp punch could make the dead one stay,
and keep the live one company.
First published in The Rialto (UK)
Edison Dupree’s collection Prosthesis was published in the Bluestem Award series, and his poems have appeared widely in journals. He has received fellowships from the North Carolina Arts Council, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and the MacDowell Colony. A native of Kinston, North Carolina, he now lives in Cambridge with his wife, artist Rebecca Doughty, and works as a library assistant at Harvard University.
Cornelius Eady: A Poet Forgets His Library
for Jack Agueros
Look at all those lovely books.
What are all those books to me?
Words are wriggle-fish in an endless sea.
I over-hear them talking,
Sometimes I think
They’re talking about me.
All this time, all this time
All this time at sea.
They say it has no memory.
A poet forgets his library.
Something was written long ago.
A voice I should know says it was written by me.
Something like a hymn, almost holy song,
Some face on the cover, but they’ve
Got it all wrong.
Tell me what this nonsense
Has to do with me?
All this time, all this time
All this time at sea.
They say it has no memory.
A poet forgets his library.
My name they say, is a man beloved,
A man with a printed history.
Here I sit, and here they try
To read it back to me.
What’s this accusation?
The hell is poetry?
All this time, all this time
All this time at sea.
They say it has no memory.
A poet forgets his library.
Cornelius Eady is the author of several books of poetry, including the critically acclaimed Hardheaded Weather (Penguin, 2008), which was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. His other titles are Kartunes, (Warthog Press, 1980); Victims of the Latest Dance Craze, (Ommation Press, 1986), winner of the 1985 Lamont Prize from the Academy of American Poets; The Gathering of My Name, (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1991), nominated for the 1992 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry; You Don’t Miss Your Water, (Henry Holt and Co., 1995); The Autobiography of a Jukebox (Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1997); and Brutal Imagination (Putnam, 2001). With poet Toi Derricote, Eady is cofounder of Cave Canem, a national organization for African American poetry and poets. He is the recipient of an NEA Fellowship in Literature (1985); a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry, (1993); a Lila Wallace-Readers Digest Traveling Scholarship to Tougaloo College in Mississippi (1992-1993); a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship to Bellagio, Italy, (1993); and The Prairie Schooner Strousse Award (1994). In June 1997, an adaptation of You Don't Miss Your Water was performed at the Vineyard Theatre, in New York City. In April 1999, Running Man, a music-theatre piece co-written with jazz musican Diedre Murray, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama and awarded a 1999 Obie for best musical score and lead actor in a musical. In January 2002, a production of Brutal Imagination (with a score by Diedre Murray) opened at the Vineyard Theatre, where it won the 2002 Oppenheimer Award for the best first play by an American Playwright.
Eady has taught poetry at SUNY Stony Br ook, where he directed its Poetry Center; City College; Sarah Lawrence College; New York University; The Writer’s Voice; The 92nd St Y; The College of William and Mary; and Sweet Briar College. At present he is Professor of English and the Miller Family Endowed Chair in Literature and Writing at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Carol Edelstein: Elegy in Advance
Mother was no ordinary genius.
Her stamp collection attracted wild bees.
She repaired our telescope by merely thinking.
She taught us to map galaxies
which resemble spilled pearls.
On our bluest days we sat on her bed
and played Parcheesi or went door to door
with poetry we’d copied, a quarter a piece,
Emily Dickinson’s one bee and field of clover
the neighborhood best seller.
She called me bread and sister, butter.
She let us braid twigs and pine needles
into her hair. In the afterlife, she told us,
we’ll have a ranch. Heaven is really
just like Colorado. The last time she was
well enough to fly, we flew to the market
for midnight potatoes. Back home
around the table, as she peeled them
in the dark, I asked what are you singing?
She answered simply by singing on.
The song of Lot’s wife, it must have been,
for everything, now everything, tastes of salt.
Carol Edelstein will be one of the featured speakers at this year's WriteAngles conference in South Hadley in October. For over twenty years, Carol Edelstein has been organizing a reading series in Northampton, Massachusetts where she is an editor, social worker and co-founder of the literary organization The Gallery of Readers (www.galleryofreaders.org) She is the author of two books of poems, The World Is Round (Amherst Writers and Artists Press, 1994) and The Disappearing Letters (Perugia Press, 2005). Her poetry and fiction have been widely published, most recently in upstreet and Alaska Quarterly Review.
Curtis Emery: The Seed is Haunted
Back to gazing
The mist hangs gentle there
And you watch the hedge-brush bristle
Thistle and shake its way into the wind some
It is interesting true to consider yes
And to consider what is true and
What is also interesting is the work
Of the mad sparrow, its psyche shattered
Unleaded premium aerosol
I meant to write the seagull,
Only an hour too early yet the bird
Came lazy over my neighbor’s roof
As a child I learned the
Homely magnificence of
The female cardinal,
My gendered imagination
Interesting interesting the
Way the imagination
Breaks or becomes its
I am the female cardinal.
The seed is haunted.
The flower becomes anew.
Not what was expected or
True nature pushes
Through no matter.
Curtis Emery is a poet from Massachusetts. He lives somewhere at the intersection of light and dark and excess— his work is published in ELDERLY, The Sierra Nevada Review, Reality Beach, INFINITE SCROLL: a journal of literature and art, and translated into German with the Berlin publication, Kathedrale19 among others. His work also appears in DEVOURING THE GREEN: fear of a human planet: a cyborg / eco poetry anthology from Jaded Ibis Press. Emery received his M.F.A. from Sierra Nevada College.
Martin Espada: The Playboy Calendar and the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam
The year I graduated from high school,
my father gave me a Playboy calendar
and the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám.
On the calendar, he wrote:
Enjoy the scenery.
In the book of poems, he wrote:
I introduce you to an old friend.
The Beast was my only friend in high school,
a wrestler who crushed the coach’s nose with his elbow,
fractured the fingers of all his teammates,
could drink half a dozen vanilla milkshakes,
and signed up with the Marines
because his father was a Marine.
I showed the Playboy calendar to The Beast
and he howled like a silverback gorilla
trying to impress an expedition of anthropologists.
I howled too, smitten with the blonde
called Miss January, held high in my simian hand.
Yet, alone at night, I memorized the poet-astronomer
of Persia, his saints and sages bickering about eternity,
his angel looming in the tavern door with a jug of wine,
his battered caravanserai of sultans fading into the dark.
At seventeen, the laws of privacy have been revoked
by the authorities, and the secret police are everywhere:
I learned to hide Khayyám and his beard
inside the folds of the Playboy calendar
in case anyone opened the door without knocking,
my brother with a baseball mitt or a beery Beast.
I last saw The Beast that summer at the Marine base
in Virginia called Quantico. He rubbed his shaven head,
and the sunburn made the stitches from the car crash years ago
stand out like tiny crosses in the field of his face.
I last saw the Playboy calendar in December of that year,
when it could no longer tell me the week or the month.
I last saw Omar Khayyám this morning:
Awake! He said. For Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight.
Awake! He said. And I awoke.
Called “the Latino poet of his generation,” Martín Espada was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1957. He has published more than fifteen books as a poet, editor, essayist and translator. His latest collection of poems, The Trouble Ball (Norton, 2011), is the recipient of the Milt Kessler Award, a Massachusetts Book Award and an International Latino Book Award. The Republic of Poetry, a collection published by Norton in 2006, received the Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achievement and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. A previous book of poems, Imagine the Angels of Bread (Norton, 1996), won an American Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Other books of poems include A Mayan Astronomer in Hell’s Kitchen (Norton, 2000), City of Coughing and Dead Radiators (Norton, 1993), and Rebellion is the Circle of a Lover’s Hands (Curbstone, 1990). He has received such recognition as the Robert Creeley Award, the National Hispanic Cultural Center Literary Award, the PEN/Revson Fellowship and a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. His work has been widely translated; collections of poems have been published in Spain, Puerto Rico and Chile. His book of essays, Zapata’s Disciple (South End Press, 1998), has been banned in Tucson as part of the Mexican-American Studies Program outlawed by the state of Arizona. A graduate of Northeastern University Law School and a former tenant lawyer, Espada is currently a professor in the Department of English at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
Rhina P. Espaillat: Bra
What a good fit! But the label says Honduras:
Alas, I am Union forever, yes, both breasts
and the heart between them committed to U.S. labor.
But such a splendid fit! And the label tells me
the woman who made it, bronze as the breasts now in it,
speaks the language I dream in; I count in Spanish
the pesos she made stitching this breast-divider:
will they go for her son’s tuition, her daughter’s wedding?
The thought is a lovely fit, but oh, the label!
And oh, those pesos that may be pennies, and hard-earned.
Was it son or daughter who made this, unschooled, unwedded?
How old? Fourteen? Ten? That fear is a tight fit.
If only the heart could be worn like the breast, divided,
nosing in two directions for news of the wide world,
sniffing here and there for justice, for mercy.
How burdened every choice is with politics, guilt,
expensive with duty, heavy as breasts in need of
this perfect fit whose label says Honduras.
From Where Horizons Go, © 1998, New Odyssey Press; first
published in E, the prize-winners’ anthology
Reprinted by permission of the author.
Rhina P. Espaillat has published poems, essays, shortstories and translations in numerous magazines and over fifty anthologies, in both English and her native Spanish, as well as three chapbooks and eight full-length books, including three in bilingual format. Her most recent are a poetry collection in English, Her Place in These Designs (Truman State University Press, Kirksville, 2008), and a bilingual collection of her short stories, El olor de la memoria/The Scent of Memory (Ediciones CEDIBIL, Santo Domingo,D. R., 2007). Her honors include the Wilbur Award, the T. S. Eliot Prize in Poetry, the Robert Frost “Tree at My Window” Award for Translation, the May Sarton Award, a Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award from Salem State College, and several prizes from the Dominican Republic’s Ministry of Culture.
Howard Faerstein: Reentry
Returning to Earth was challenging for me–Buzz Aldrin
On the surface of the Moon he had the thought he’d never die.
Now he realized he was better off
dead because of clowns counting
silver pieces in the marketplace.
And because of wooden houses topped
with bricked chimneys and the unaccustomed
light, the astronaut felt cornered,
for on Earth people are supposed to lead
their own lives; it was difficult for him
because of the fantastical insects and what the trees looked like,
standing every which way, taking no heed
of the constantly changing weather or loud voices on the street.
Doorsteps and thresholds confronted his every turn.
He was continually confused over sixes and nines
and the two meanings of “refuse”
and since he had seen the rising earth
and knew how slight it was–
here vast numbers of cemeteries bordering commerce,
the heaviness of home rooting him–
he recalled the lightness of that walk,
how all hunger vanished.
Dreaming of the Rain in Brooklyn by Howard Faerstein, a selection of the Silver Concho Poetry Series, published by Press 53 (in 2013).
Howard Faerstein’s book of poetry, Dreaming of the Rain in Brooklyn, a selection of the Silver Concho Poetry Series, was published in 2013 by Press 53. His poetry has appeared in numerous journals, including Great River Review, Nimrod (finalist in the Pablo Neruda Poetry Contest), CutThroat (featured as Discovery Poet), The Comstock Review, Off the Coast, Mudfish, and on-line in Gris-Gris, Connotation Press and Pirene’s Fountain. He lives in Florence, Massachusetts and teaches American Literature at Westfield State University.
Alan Feldman: Love Poem
The sail is so vast when it’s laid out on the driveway.
I stake it with a screwdriver through the shackle
at the tack to stretch it smooth,
pulling on the head and clew. Now it’s smooth
as a night’s worth of new snow.
My wife, my partner, has been torn from her busy day.
We face each other across the sail’s foot
and with my right hand and her left hand
(I’m right handed, she’s left handed)
we pull an arm’s length of the sail
down over itself, then do this again,
keeping my left hand, and her right hand
inside the latest fold, and drawing our other hand,
her left hand and my right hand, towards the foot.
Each fold is easier since the sail grows narrower
near the top. Then we fold towards each other,
and I wrap my arms around it, while she holds the bag’s mouth open,
the gray bag that will cover it through the winter.
Then I thank her. And the driveway is visible again
as it is in spring, when all the snow has melted.
from Immortality, University of Wisconsin Press, 2015
Alan Feldman’s poetry has appeared in many magazines over the years—The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The Nation, Poetry, The Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, Ploughshares, Iowa Review, Threepenny Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Yale Review, and others. His full-length collection of poems, The Happy Genius (New York: Sun, 1978) won the 1979 Elliston Book Award for the best collection of poetry published by an independent press in the United States.
A Sail to Great Island was awarded the 2004 Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry and published by the University of Wisconsin Press. A new collection, Immortality, was awarded the Four Lakes Prize, and was published by the University of Wisconsin Press in March of 2015. Feldman lives in Framingham, MA and, in the summer, in Wellfleet, MA, and currently offers free, drop-in poetry workshops in those towns. (For his method, “Mockingbird: Exploring Poetry through Imitation” see mockingbird.pdf) He is married to Nan Hass Feldman, an artist.
David Ferry: October
The day was hot, and entirely breathless, so
The remarkably quiet remarkably steady leaf fall
Seemed as if it had no cause at all.
The ticking sound of falling leaves was like
The ticking sound of gentle rainfall as
They gently fell on leaves already fallen,
Or as, when as they passed them in their falling,
Now and again it happened that one of them touched
One or another leaf as yet not falling,
Still clinging to the idea of being summer:
As if the leaves that were falling, but not the day,
Had read, and understood, the calendar.
David Ferry is Hart Professor of English, Emeritus, at Wellesley College; since his retirement from Wellesley he has frequently been a Visiting Lecturer in the Boston University Graduate Creative Writing Program; he is currently a “Distinguished Visiting Scholar”at Suffolk University. His most recent books of poetry are Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations, Chicago University Press, 2012 and On This Side of the River: Selected Poems, Waywiser Press, U.K., 2012. His Of No Country I Know: New and Selected Poems was published in 1999 by the University of Chicago Press. His translations, all published by Farrar Straus & Giroux, are The Georgics of Virgil (2005), The Epistles of Horace (2001), The Eclogues of Virgil (1999), The Odes of Horace (1997), and Gilgamesh: A New Rendering in English Verse (1992). He is currently translating the Aeneid of Virgil. His prizes and awards include The National Book Award, 2012, for his book Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations; The Ruth B Lilly Prize, from the Poetry Foundation, “for lifetime achievement,” 2011; The Golden Rose , “for lifetime achievement,” New England Poetry Club, 2007; D.Litt. (Hon.), Amherst College, 2006; Harold Morton Landon Translation Prize, Academy of American Poets; Academy Award for Literature, American Academy of Arts and Letters, 2001; The 2000 Lenore Marshall Prize, Academy of American Poets; the 2000 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize, The Library of Congress; Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1998.
Peter Filkins: The Broken Piano
Have all your melodies left you,
your keyboard idle as dentures,
voided now of its raggedy tunes?
Even so, time still plays you,
abandoned in this drafty barn,
where at night the mouse’s struggle
ekes out its panicked syncopation
beneath the owl’s wheeling shadow
as a shutter clatters in the manic wind.
Winter having chilled you, summer
expanding your soundboard’s grain,
music, like desolation, has become
for you an opus cordoned off
by shrieks and groans, broken strings
whose memory of a hammer’s blow
is sweetened by a finger’s touch
somewhere coaxing out a last scherzo
before dissonant, cold neglect set in.
And yet you remain, upright, serene,
your impassive bulk anchoring the dark
hushed rafters, the hayloft poised to hear
the concert of your ruin, silence
the answering choir whose crescendo
is final and certain, harrowing the applause.
From The View We’re Granted, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012
Peter Filkins was born and raised in western Massachusetts, where he teaches writing and literature at Bard College at Simon’s Rock. He has published three full-length collections of poetry: What She Knew (1998), After Homer (2002), and most recently The View We’re Granted (2012), which was named co-winner of the Sheila Motton Best Book Award from the New England Poetry Club. His 2010 chapbook, Augustine’s Vision, won the New American Press Chapbook Award, in 2007 he received the Stover Prize in Poetry from Southwest Review, and he has been the recipient of a Berlin Prize and a Fulbright. He is also the translator of Ingeborg Bachmann’s collected poems, Darkness Spoken, and the novels of H.G. Adler.
Nikky Finney: The Afterbirth, 1931
We were a Colored Clan of Kinfolk
Who threw soil not salt
Over our shoulders
Who tendered close the bible
Who grew and passed around the almanac at night
So we would know
What to plant at first light
Black soil and sweet brown sorghum
From the every morning biscuits
Mama Susan fixed
Dripping and mixing
Up under our fingernails
A secret salve
Just like any other
And keeping to our proud selves
Quite aware of night riders
Quite aware of men with
Cologned with kerosene and match
Aware of just whose feet
Walked across our tin roofs at night
We were such light sleepers
Such long distance believers
We were a family pregnant
Whose water had broke
And for once there was ham money
So we thought to do better by ourselves
To begin our next row
We would go and get him
Because he was medically degreed in baby bringing
Because he was young and white and handsome
And because of that
Had been neighbor to more knowledge
Than us way back behind
The country’s proud but inferior lines
And because he came with his papers in his pocket
So convincing so soon
After his ivy graduation
Asking us hadn’t we heard
Telling us times had changed
And the midwife wasn’t safe anymore
Even though we had all been caught
By tried and true Black Grannies
Who lay ax blade sharp side up
And water pan underneath the bed
To cut the pain
To cool the fever
We were a Pregnant Clan of Kinfolk
Caught with water running down our legs
Old family say they remember
Going to fetch him
Telling him that it was time
That he should come now
But he didn’t show right away
Not right away
But came when he wanted
The next day
After his breakfast
But what more
Could we colored country folk ever want
Even if we had to watch the road all night for him
Even if we had to not let her push too hard
When he finally came
He had his papers on him
Something with one of those pretty shiny seals
Old family say they can remember
Somethin’ just wasn’t right
But we opened the screen for him anyway
And tendering close what the Good Book
Had told us all our lives to do
Then we made him a path
Where he put his hand up then inside
My grandmother’s womb
Her precious private pleasing place
Somewhere he probably didn’t want to touch
Then he pulled my daddy through
Somebody he probably didn’t care to reach for
And from the first he pulled him wrong
Shattered his collarbone
And snapped his soft baby foot in half
And smashed the cartilage in his infant hand
Their own sun baked arms
Old timey family
Remember him well
Say they knew somethin’ wasn’t right
As he came through the door
A day later
His breakfast digested now
Somethin’ just wasn’t right
How he had two waters on him
One sweet one sour-mash
One trying to throw snow quilt over the other
As he un-carefully
He with his papers on him still
Stood there turning a brown baby into blue
And right before our eyes
Hope and Pray
Hope and Pray
Then he packed his bag and left
With all of his official training
And gathered up gold stars left
The Virginia land of Cumberland County
He left and forgot
He left and didn’t remember
The afterbirth inside
Carlene Godwin Finney
Her precious private pleasing place
To fill the house to the rafters
Up past the dimpled tin roof
With a rotting smell
That stayed for nine days
That mortgaged a room
In our memories
And did not die with her
We were a Brown and Pregnant Family
And he would’ve remembered his schoolin’
And left his bottle
Recollected his manners
And brought his right mind
Had another klan called him to their bedside
He would’ve come right away
He would’ve never had liquor on his breath
If the color of my daddy’s broken limbs
Had matched the color of his own but
We were a Colored Clan of Kinfolk
We should’ve met him at the door
Should’ve told him lean first into the rusty screen
Made him open up his mouth and blow
Breathe out right there
Into all of our brown and lined up faces
In wait of his worthiness
Then just for good measure
Should’ve made him blow once again
Into Papa Josh’s truth telling jar
Just to be sure
Should’ve let Mama Sally
Then Aunt Nanny
Then lastly Aunt Mary
Give him the final once over
And hold his sterile hands
Down to the firelight to check
Just like she checked our own every night
Before we were allowed to sit
At her very particular table
We could’ve let Aunt Ira clutch him by his chin
Enter and leave through her eyes
Just like how she came and went through us
Everyday at her leisure
She would’ve took care to notice
As she traveled all up and through him
Any shaking any sweating
And caught his incapable belligerent incompetence
We should’ve let Grandpop Robert
Have him from the first
Should’ve let him pick him up
By the back of his pants
And swirl him around
Just like he picked us up
And swirled us around
Anytime he caught us lying or lazy
Or being less than what we were
We should’ve let Grandpop
Loose on him from the start
And he would’ve held him up
High eye to the sun
And looked straight through him
Just like he held us up
And then we would have known first
Like he always knew first
And brought to us
The very map of his heart
Then we would have known
Just what his intentions were
With our Carlene
Before we knew his name
Or cared about his many degrees
Before he dared reach up then inside
Our family’s brown globe
While we stood there
Some of us throwing good black soil
With one hand
Some of us tending close
The Good Book with the other
Believing and trusting
We were doing better
By this one
Screaming whitewater rapids
Down our pants legs
Down our pantaloons
To our many selves
All the while
That maybe we were wrong
(please make us wrong)
One hundred proof
Smelled the same as
Nikky Finney was born in South Carolina, within listening distance of the sea. A child of activists, she came of age during the civil rights and Black Arts Movements. At Talladega College, nurtured by Hale Woodruff’s Amistad murals, Finney began to understand the powerful synergy between art and history. Finney has authored four books of poetry: Head Off & Split (2011); The World Is Round (2003); Rice (1995); and On Wings Made of Gauze (1985). Professor of English and creative writing at the University of Kentucky, Finney also authored Heartwood (1997), edited The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South (2007), and co-founded the Affrilachian Poets. Finney’s fourth book of poetry, Head Off & Split was awarded the National Book Award for poetry.Listen to Finney’s acceptance speech at the National Book Award — as John Lithgow said “The best acceptance speech I’ve ever heard — period!”
Laura Foley: Flight Test
My six-year-old glues balsa wood,
three-foot wings, his own design,
whittling each day for weeks,
adding paper clips to adjust its lateral balance.
This breezy day, we carry
the fragile craft between us,
inching our way to open field.
He launches his creation cleanly,
and we hold our breath as it soars over trees—
then hovers and stalls—nothing I can do
will stop its shattering—
but he shrugs as we climb
the hill home, as his agile mind
designs his next adventure—
mine wonders when he won’t need me
to hold the tail up high—
when, too soon,
his plane will clear the trees.
First Published in Pittsburgh Poetry Review
Laura Foley is the author of six poetry collections, including, most recently, WTF and Night Ringing. Her poem “Gratitude List” won the Common Good Books poetry contest and was read by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac. Her poem “Nine Ways of Looking at Light” won the Joe Gouveia Outermost Poetry Contest, judged by Marge Piercy. A palliative care volunteer in hospitals, with an M.A. and a M. Phil. in English Lit. from Columbia University, she lives with her partner, and three big dogs among the hills of Vermont.
Kate Hanson Foster: Mill City
No human echo–
Just a hum that drips from the street
wires, a pulse that lets loose
from the glass of vacant store fronts.
My mind is filthy with old, dear secrets.
Another room sinks into its pine boards
and someone comes to assign value;
pull sewage out of the canal.
So much left over from so much
I am seduced
by the red X on buildings
where no one bothers. Another ceiling
gives in, and my gutters fill.
It is the unlit room,
the windowpane that keeps hold
of that flat ochre light.
It is absence.
And not even post and beam can escape
the flutter of that grey wing.
A crack opens another foundation–
something in the flesh trying to beat its way out.
Just watch it go.
Kate Hanson Foster’s first book of poems, Mid Drift, was published by Loom Press and was selected by Massachusetts Center for the Book as a “Must Read” in 2011. She gained her MFA from Bennington College, and her poetry has appeared in California Quarterly, Comstock Review, Harpur Palate, Poet Lore and elsewhere. She lives with her husband, Bert and her two children, Henry and Coralie in Groton, Massachusetts.
Hannah Fries: Epithalamion
The elm weaves the field’s late light, this hill
hanging from the tree’s roots like the moon
From its shadow and the whole
world beneath suspended.
Roots knead the earth’s thick sorrow.
Still, leaves from this.
From this unshackling, birdsong.
I am a blade of corn where you kneel,
wind and quaking stalk.
The elm’s body a vase of poured sky.
The tree will die.
Someday, the tree will die.
For now, this axis—
what we choose to compass by.
Hannah Fries is associate editor and poetry editor of Orion magazine, based in Great Barrington, MA. She is a graduate of the Warren Wilson College MFA Program for Writers and the recipient of a Colorado Art Ranch residency. Her poetry has appeared in The Massachusetts Review, Calyx, and The Cortland Review, and is forthcoming in Drunken Boat. She also serves on the organizing committee of the Berkshire Festival for Women Writers.
Erica Funkhouser: Impossible
I watch my mother’s nearly century-old foot
search for the curb from the street.
No mammal has ever hunted as hungrily
as the rounded toe of this mouse-colored zip-up sneaker.
Is this it? Is it here?
When the second mouse is finally level with the first,
she taps the granite curbstone
with her cane. There.
We’re on our way to the hearing aid store.
Afterward, in a sandwich shop,
the young mother at the next table
asks the waitress for a few leaves
of spinach — her son would like to sample it
before he orders lunch.
My mother is of the “kids should eat what you put
in front of them” school, definitely of the
“kids don’t go out to lunch” school.
The disappearance of home life in this country
is her chief complaint after joint pain
and the thinness of the Red Sox bullpen.
Stone-faced as Buster Keaton,
she waits for her egg salad sandwich
and listens as the earnest woman coaxes her son
to say spinach in Spanish.
My mother doesn’t like the word espinaca.
She doesn’t like Spanish any more than she likes English.
She thinks the world is full of foolish mistakes
that must be faced with composure.
Like a character out of silent film,
she points to what she wants, puts her hat on
when it’s time to go.
In the face of adversity, she’s an acrobat,
one eyebrow lifted in perpetual surprise.
A building is about to fall down on her,
a train about to crush her,
and this is her expression: What next?
What will they think of next?
Years have been spent interpreting this gaze,
fighting over its significance, competing to discover
the secrets contained in her perfectly level lips.
Mouth like a line drawn straight through a word.
What are words but little corrections
of what needn’t have been spoken at all?
Spinach. Espinaca. What next?
She doesn’t laugh but she makes me laugh,
her deadpan disapproval thrilled with its new material.
She’s not going to tell it now, but she has one story.
When she was in high school, her father
drove her to Pittsburgh to watch Babe Ruth play.
There’s one other thing she might mention.
For this, if you are family,
she will offer up her shapely ankle,
where a dozen BB pellets have been lodged
for nine decades. “My own brother shot me,”
she’ll say as you marvel at the dark constellation
swirling beneath tissue-thin skin.
“A mistake, of course,” she’ll add. Then a pause:
“One of many.”
Raised in Concord, Massachusetts, Erica Funkhouser studied at Vassar College and Stanford University. She is the author of several collections of poetry, including: Earthly (Houghton Mifflin, 2008); Pursuit (2002); Sure Shot and Other Poems (1992); and Natural Affinities (1983). She was a recipient of a 2007 Guggenheim Foundation grant for poetry. She has also worked as a playwright. She lives in Essex, Massachusetts and teaches poetry-writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.