11 Nov 2011

In Flander's Fields -- Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae

[1872–1918, Canadian]

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
    Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
    In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
    In Flanders fields.

Source: First published 1915 in London-based magazine Punch.

11 Aug 2011

Excerpt from 'My Country' -- Dorothea McKellar

[1885–1968, Australian]

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror –
The wide brown land for me!

Source: First published in London Spectator in 1908 under the title ‘Core of My Heart’.
Dorothea was 19 when she wrote this poem.

27 Jul 2011

Excerpt from ‘Angel of Duluth’ -- Madelon Sprengnether


I lied a little. There are things I don’t want to tell you. How lonely I am today and sick at heart. How the rain falls steadily and cold on a garden grown greener, more lush and even less tame. I haven’t done much, I confess, to contain it. The grapevine, as usual, threatens everything in its path, while the raspberry canes, aggressive and abundant, are clearly out of control. I’m afraid the wildflowers have taken over, being after all the most hardy and tolerant of shade and neglect. This year the violets and lilies of the valley are rampant, while the phlox are about to emit their shocking pink perfume. Oh, my dear, had you been here this spring, you would have seen how the bleeding hearts are thriving.

Source: Sprengnether, M 2006, Angel of Duluth, White Pine Press.

Boston -- Aaron Smith


I’ve been meaning to tell
you how the sky is pink
here sometimes like the roof
of a mouth that’s about to chomp
down on the crooked steel teeth
of the city,

I remember the desperate
things we did

   and that I stumble
down sidewalks listening
to the buzz of street lamps
at dusk and the crush
of leaves on the pavement,

Without you here I’m viciously lonely

and I can’t remember
the last time I felt holy,
the last time I offered
myself as sanctuary


I watched two men
press hard into
each other, their bodies
caught in the club’s
bass drum swell,
and I couldn’t remember
when I knew I’d never
be beautiful, but it must
have been quick
and subtle, the way
the holy ghost can pass
in and out of a room.
I want so desperately
to be finished with desire,
the rushing wind, the still
small voice.

Source: Smith, A 2005, Blue on Blue Ground, University of Pittsburgh Press.

Excerpt from ‘Don’t Let Me Be Lonely’ -- Claudia Rankine

[1963–current, American]

There was a time I could say no one I knew well had died. This is not to suggest no one died. When I was eight my mother became pregnant. She went to the hospital to give birth and returned without the baby. Where’s the baby? we asked. Did she shrug? She was the kind of woman who liked to shrug; deep within her was an everlasting shrug. That didn’t seem like a death. The years went by and people only died on television – if they weren’t Black, they were wearing black or were terminally ill. Then I returned home from school one day and saw my father sitting on the steps of our home. He had a look that was unfamiliar; it was flooded, so leaking. I climbed the steps as far away from him as I could get. He was breaking or broken. Or, to be more precise, he looked to me like someone understanding his aloneness. Loneliness. His mother was dead. I’d never met her. It meant a trip back home for him. When he returned he spoke neither about the airplane nor the funeral.

Every movie I saw while in the third grade compelled me to ask, Is he dead? Is she dead? Because the characters often live against all odds it is the actors whose mortality concerned me. If it were an old, black-and-white film, whoever was around would answer yes. Months later the actor would show up on some latenight talk show to promote his latest efforts. I would turn and say – one always turns to say – You said he was dead. And the misinformed would claim, I never said he was dead. Yes, you did. No, I didn’t. Inevitably we get older; whoever is still with us says, Stop asking me that.

Or one begins asking oneself that same question differently. Am I dead? Though this question at no time explicitly translates into Should I be dead, eventually the suicide hotline is called. You are, as usual, watching television, the eight-o’clock movie, when a number flashes on the screen: I-800-SUICIDE. You dial the number. Do you feel like killing yourself? the man on the other end of the receiver asks. You tell him, I feel like I am already dead. When he makes no response you add, I am in death’s position. He finally says, Don’t believe what you are thinking and feeling. Then he asks, Where do you live?

Fifteen minutes later the doorbell rings. You explain to the ambulance attendant that you had a momentary lapse of happily. The noun, happiness, is a static state of some Platonic ideal you know better than to pursue. Your modifying process had happily or unhappily experienced a momentary pause. This kind of thing happens, perhaps is still happening. He shrugs and in turn explains that you need to come quietly or he will have to restrain you. If he is forced to restrain you, he will have to report that he is forced to restrain you. It is this simple: Resistance will only make matters more difficult. Any resistance will only make matters worse. By law, I will have to restrain you. His tone suggests that you should try to understand the difficulty in which he finds himself. This is further disorienting. I am fine! Can’t you see that! You climb into the ambulance unassisted.

Source: Rankine, C 2004, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely (Excerpt), Greywolf Press.

Before -- Carl Adamshick

I always thought death would be like traveling
in a car, moving through the desert,
the earth a little darker than sky at the horizon,
that your life would settle like the end of a day
and you would think of everyone you ever met,
that you would be the invisible passenger,
quiet in the car, moving through the night,
forever, with the beautiful thought of home.

From http://www.poets.org

8 May 2011

Christmas [Haiku] -- Ron Loeffler

Glass balls and glowing lights.
Dead tree in living room.
Killed to honor birth.

Source: Haiku for People, 27 March 2012, www.toyomasu.com/haiku/

Urban Haiku -- Michael R. Collings

Silence – a strangled
    Telephone has forgotten
        That it should ring

Freeway overpass –
    Blossoms in graffiti on
        fog-wrapped June mornings

Source: Haiku for People, 27 March 2012, www.toyomasu.com/haiku/

Haiku -- Vanessa Proctor

city street
    the briefest touch
        of a stranger’s hand

Source: Haiku Dreaming Australia, 8 May 2011, http://users.mullum.com.au/jbird/dreaming/ozku.html

Torment -- Daisy Fried

[1967–current, American]

“I fucked up bad”: Justin cracks his neck,
talking to nobody. Fifteen responsible children,
final semester college seniors, bloodshot,
collars undone, gorgeously exhausted,
return from Wall Street interviews
in attitudes of surrender on the Dinky –
the one-car commuter train connecting
Princeton to the New York line. Panic-sweat
sheens their faces. Justin hasn’t seen me yet.
“Something’s fucked with my tie.” He’s right.
I see his future, the weight he’ll gain
first in his face, then gut and ass, the look
of bad luck he’ll haunt his bad jobs with.
He tears off the tie. Elephants on it.
Fatigue, swollen ankles, the midwife said.
The worst discomforts of pregnancy.
I wrote those down. But she’s wrong:
self-pity. Strange dreams, she said.
No dreams. Discarded newspapers –
business section, money, real estate, auto –
sift apart to quartos and folios underfoot.
“Shut up, Justin,” says the girl across from him.
I hardly recognize Brianna in her interview hair.
She scratches her face, fingers trembling
from the day’s aftershocks. “I wanted,”
she counts on her fingers, performing
the sitcom of her tragedy, “Tribeca loft,
expense account, designer clothes so haute
they don’t look it, my very own Tesla, summer
home in the Hamptons I’m too busy to use.”
“You wanted money,” says Justin.
Brianna: “It went down with the towers.”

I spent my lopsided day lifting my belly
back towards center, interviewing for adjunct jobs.
There’s a half-moon in half-clouds
up over the tracks. Justin spreads
over three seats, texts with his thumbs,
talks: “The Lehman Brothers guy asks me,
Did you ever sell anything? Sell me a bottle of water.
I’m like fu-uck. To say something I say
‘Why do you like water?’ He says...”
Justin fixes a diamond stud back in his ear.
“They’ll let me know.” Fifteen responsible children
sigh in disappointed relief. Somebody they know
didn’t get the job they didn’t get. I sleep. Wake.
Beautiful clothes spread bodiless before me!
Tailored black suits and skirts, silk ties,
ephemera of sheer and filmy stockings
deflated over seat backs. Brianna looks around,
no conductor coming, squats to peel off,
in one motion, skirt, hose, underpants, step
butt-naked into soft chino shorts I’ll never
be able to afford. “Nervous crotch sweat,” she says.
I keep trying to look not-quite-40
in a different way than I’m not-quite-40.
The woman interviewer looked at my belly.
“As a new mother would you have time to be
literary mama to your students?” So I could sue
when they don’t hire me for the job I don’t want.
Justin looks up from his iPhone: “Soon-Ji
got three offers. Fuck.” He flips the curl
his mother’s fingers crimped, first day of pre-K
into his four-year-old forelock. “He’s guessing
he’ll go with Goldman Sachs.” Brianna grabs her neck
in living garrote. She high-fives anybody
she can reach in gloomy delight. She gobbles
snack-pack popcorn, licks her fingers; bits drop
yellow from her lips. “My mom will go crazy
Deutsche Bank didn’t offer.” She sees me.
“I didn’t realize that was you with your hair up.
Look, Just.” She high-fives me. “It’s Professor.”

Is Brianna crying? “Don’t call me Professor,”
I say, dozens of times a semester. “I’m a writer,
not a teacher.” Justin grabs a Norton Anthology
out of his five-hundred-dollar briefcase. “Fuck.
What are we supposed to read for tomorrow?”
“Prufrock, dummy,” Brianna says. “You’re
a good professor.” She condescends through tears.
“Poor baby,” mocks Justin, slumping so low
in the seat I only see his shoe soles on the arm rest.
The train swooshes through suburban tracts.
The moon gets smaller. Brianna arrives
mornings to workshop in a fake hurry
and the sweats she slept in, probably rolls back
in bed after. She hands out slight, surprising poems,
apologizes, sips cardboard-container coffee
in a recyclable sleeve, turns her BlackBerry to vibrate.
It moans like indigestion through class.
I hand her one of my self-pity tissues. My ankles
are slim. Brianna hates her name. “So tacky.
I’d be a Kelly if I were twenty years older.”
I’d like to be able to hate her. I’m turning
into my Favorite Teachers – so kind,
so industrious, so interested and interesting.
“Sorry I’m late with my portfolio,” she says
through sniffles. She dabs her lip. “I had to prepare for,”
a breath, “interviews.” A few times a semester
I say “It’s only poetry.” Gumbleeds! nosebleeds!
the midwife predicted, and it’s true, my Kleenexes
are measled with blood, weird hairs, stretch marks,
frequent catnaps, hip joints so loose you must
take care walking. The fetus dabs its fingers
in the sponge of me, flails. At the second class,
Brianna said, “My mom would go crazy.
I can’t read all these sex poems. We’re Christian.”
I said, “Poems should be about life,
part of life is sex.” Two kids wrote that down
in notebooks. One was Justin. “But skip
any reading that makes you uncomfortable.”
Next week, Brianna wrote about hanging
onto stall walls in her residence hall bathroom,
fucking Princeton boys one by one.
Justin’s poem was “Torment,” seven pages long.
Favorite Teachers write poems about students!
Reading them is like listening to whores
talk about clients; however contemptuous they sound,
everybody knows who’s selling, who’s buying.
I’d like to be able to like them. I sleep. Wake.
“Justin’s your boyfriend?” I whisper to Brianna.
My cell phone rings, screen says it’s my husband.
If I answer, I’ll cry. Voice mail takes it.
“God no,” says Brianna. “We hate each other,
right, Just? Never date the competition,
you destroy your luck. Besides.” She starts
morosely high-fiving again. “I’m a virgin.”
Justin laughs. She wraps her hair around her face
to smell it. “I pay attention in class.
Professor Krugman, he’s a real professor.”
She points at a headline I just kicked. Housing
Upturn Predicted. “He says housing increases
don’t matter in the long run. It’s a blip,
if it’s even a blip. If I don’t get a job,
it’s Wharton mba. Or teach English in Japan.
But this girl on my floor told me Asian girls
depilate their whole bodies, even their arms.
I can’t be the hairiest person in my life.”

What will I do next year without the job
I don’t want? I sleep. “Hey!” says Brianna.
“I could go back to Spain, smoke Ducados
in okupa cafes. Be a poet!
Sorry.” Laughs herself out of last tears
at the idea. “I didn’t mean to get all
Sylvia Plathy on you. Anyway, my trust fund
is safe. Knock plastic.” She reaches to rap the tie
Justin hung over the seat. I say, “In Madrid
workers smoke Ducados. Reds are for anarchista
Eurotrash wannabes.” Brianna lips the cigarette
she’ll light on the platform. “I’ll have my portfolio
next week, promise.” All semester she’s revised
following precisely, appallingly, my suggestions.
She says “Think of me as raw talent wasted.”
I’m pissed I think of her at all. Justin again,
talking at no one: “Merrill Lynch says
what interests you in our company? I’m amped.
I’m whipped. I’m like ‘Um, I heard you were hiring?’
Nah, I’m giving him eight good reasons.
He cuts me off...” The train slows, surceases
with a hiss. Fifteen responsible children
stand in the aisle. Jizz, jess, fuck, markered
on seats by younger, irresponsible children.
Off the train, Justin jumps into a low Mazda coupe,
yellow as Dick Tracy’s hat, parked unticketed
at an expired meter, open to the rain. I autodial:
“I’m at the station. Don’t come, I need the walk.”
Brianna: “Where’s Soon-Ji anyway? Flying his plane back?
God, what’ll we do if nobody wants us?”
Justin: “Soon-Ji will fucking keep us I guess.
All we have is Dad’s money.”
Brianna: “Mine’s Mom’s. Half of it gone in the crash.
But Soon-Ji is great-grandfathered in. He’ll be richer
than we’ll ever be if he never gets a job at all.”
Justin: “Professor, you hand back comments tomorrow,
right? They’re important to me.”
“Fuck you, suck-up,” Brianna says.
Sometimes I forget I’m pregnant till I walk.
Brianna vaults into the car, leans out:
“Want a ride, Professor? Cigarette?”
She puts one in my mouth, lights it
with a naked boy lighter that squirts fire
out his tiny penis. “Beer?” Tears a can
off a six-pack choke-ring, sticks it in a baggie
she pulls from Justin’s glove compartment,
pops the top, shoves it in my hand. “Now
you can’t walk home – pregnant, smoking,
carrying a beer? You’d be arrested. Anyway,
Soon-Ji is having a party. Cristal! Rappers!
He produces them and brings his stable
down from Queens. You have to come!
He was going to take your workshop,
he admires you, but took playwriting instead.”
For final relaxation in prenatal yoga, we do
our Kegels squatting in a circle, shut-eyed –
“for perianal strengthening,” the teacher said.
Then we lie on our sides, breathe in, breathe out,
bellies like dropped anchors on the floor.
Our muscles tick, smoothing, loosening.
The teacher reads an affirming poem. I tense up.
Brianna: “We always say Krugman’s one of the few
Professors we’d friend on Facebook.
But, Daisy, we’d friend you too.” Memory:
Favorite Teachers at our college house parties,
slow-dancing with us, doing lines
in our bathrooms. When are they going to grow up,
we said. I wave, walk, drop the cigarette
in the beer, the can in the trash can, relieved
to be embarrassed, triumphant, sorry. Justin
drives along beside me, Brianna rides shotgun
standing like a surfer on a breaking wave.
Justin – “Fuck” – floors it, roars past me, away.
I don’t know how to end this poem. On “Torment”
I wrote: “You may want to find a way to suggest
ironic distance between the poet and speaker.”
I couldn’t figure out what else,
to responsible children, there was to say.

Source: Fried, D 2011, Poetry Magazine (March 2011),

12 Apr 2011

Packing the Car for Our Western Camping Trip -- Jane Varley


What we will remember – we tried to take the dog,
packed around him, making a cozy spot
at the back of the Subaru, blocking out the sun,
resisting the obvious –
he was too old, he would not make it.
And when he died in Minnesota,
we smelled and smelled his paws,
arthritic and untouchable these last many years,
took those marvelous paws up into our faces.
They smelled of dark clay
and sweet flower bloom decay.

Source: Varley, J 2009, Poems & Plays, No. 16, via www.poetryfoundation.org

Day Job and Night Job -- Andrew Hudgins

[1951–current, American]

After my night job, I sat in class
and ate, every thirteen minutes,
an orange peanut-butter cracker.
Bright grease adorned my notes.

At noon I rushed to my day job
and pushed a broom enough
to keep the boss calm if not happy.
In a hiding place, walled off

by bolts of calico and serge,
I read my masters and copied
Donne, Marlowe, Dickinson, and Frost,
scrawling the words I envied,

so my hand could move as theirs had moved
and learn outside of logic
how the masters wrote. But why? Words
would never heal the sick,

feed the hungry, clothe the naked,
blah, blah, blah.
Why couldn’t I be practical,
Dad asked, and study law –

or take a single business class?
I stewed on what and why
till driving into work one day,
a burger on my thigh

and a sweating Coke between my knees,
I yelled, “Because I want to!” –
pained – thrilled! – as I looked down
from somewhere in the blue

and saw beneath my chastened gaze
another slack romantic
chasing his heart like an unleashed dog
chasing a pickup truck.

And then I spilled my Coke. In sugar
I sat and fought a smirk.
I could see my new life clear before me.
It looked the same. Like work.

Source: Hudgins, A 2003, Ecstatic in the Poison, Overlook Press, NY.

21 Feb 2011

Small Moth -- Sarah Lindsay


She’s slicing ripe white peaches
into the Tony the Tiger bowl
and dropping slivers for the dog
poised vibrating by her foot to stop their fall
when she spots it, camouflaged,
a glimmer and then full on –
happiness, plashing blunt soft wings
inside her as if it wants
to escape again.

Source: Lindsay, S 2008, Poetry Magazine (October 2008),