Friday, January 30, 2009

Bad Modernism

Michael Davidson (2004)

Suddenly all is / loathing
—John Ashbery

and there's plenty to be unhappy about
if I can just get the reception area festooned
in time for their arrival, paper cups
and those little plastic whatsits so that,
gorged on meaning,
they troop through the glass doors
seeking interpretation, first floor
mildly historical, second floor
desire matrix, parents accompany
their indiscretions straight
to the penthouse, and someone
hands them a phone, "turtles"
they're call led, heads bobbing
as though they had a choice
to be party favors, deep structure
on your left follow the clicking
to a white cube, we only work
part time, the other part
we illustrate profound malaise,
I like these creme-filled versions
so unlike what we get at home,
having said which
we re-wind the tape,
slip it through a slot marked "aha"
and take the E home,
the smell you smell afar
is something boiling over.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

True Love

Barry Gifford (2009)

Your sickness made me
a little sick, it's
true—I still
feel it
Mayakovsky got down
on his knees
and declared
his love
to his last
a few hours after
he'd met her
Remember me
at the hotel
in Paris
on my knees
in the lift?
We're all the same
men of too much passion
and little talent—
some a little more
than others
We fool ourselves
into thinking
we're strong
then complain
the rest of our lives
crippled by
the consequences

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Walk

Oni Buchanon (2004)

The woman came toward me through the woods with a hatchet.
She was coming through the woods with a shotgun.
The trees bent and swayed around the path,

a delicate canopy, the lake a dropped quarter behind
the brink. And the near-mute lap, tendril lick,

was it the lake—or lacy winds of butterflies leaping
from leaves? Oh, the least of these. She, brisk
with bullet holes, carrying a butcher knife.

"From those who have nothing, even what they have
will be taken away," I thought, as she walked tugging her examination gloves,

stainless steel stethoscope around her shot-through throat.
"For all those who have, more will be given,"
I said aloud as she strode toward me in her leotard

and rapped thrice on my head with a cloth-covered brick.
I heard her count through the hole in her throat,

raspy as the crow-cackle grating from their roost
in the tall dead tree which moaned and creaked as it bent side-stitched,
its shriveled roots spread miles under the earth, miles to the water table

where the red and eyeless millipedes prune their poison sacs,
and outward wide as the woods where the mushroom hunters

hunt in the most dew dawns. (she had me by a cord around my throat.
She had me in the net-and-pulley treetrap.) "Oh, to the least, to me,"
I wheezed, and pointed out the sun, still high in the sky, still spotted

with sun spots. I took her spotted hand in mine as we both looked up into the blue,
and the long honey locust pods rattled high in the honey locust tree.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Kim Addonizio (2004)

Why did she cross the road?
She should have stayed in her little cage,
shat upon by her sisters above her,
shitting on her sisters below her.

God knows how she got out.
God sees everything. God has his eye
on the chicken, making her break
like the convict headed for the river,

sloshing his way through the water
to throw off the dogs, raising
his arms to starlight to praise
whatever isn't locked in a cell.

He'll make it to a farmhous
where kind people will feed him.
They'll bring green beans and bread,
home-brewed hops. They'll bring

the chicken the farmer found
by the side of the road, dazed
from being clipped by a pickup,
whose delicate brain stem

he snapped with a twist,
whose asshole his wife stuffed
with rosemary and lemon wedge.
Everything has its fate,

but only God knows what that is.
The spirit of the chicken will enter the convict.
Sometimes, in his boxy apartment,
listening to his neighbors above him,

annoying his neighbors below him,
he'll feel a terrible hunger
and an overwhelming urge
to jab his head at the television over and over.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


Danielle Pafunda (2004)

Don't invite me to your pity party.
Don't call me up on your pity party line
and invite me over for punch and cookies.
I won't come. I won't come
with a pretty pity present. I won't
put on my pity party dress and the special
ribbon in my pity pony tail. I won't play
pity pin the tail on the donkey,
or dance to pity pop music. I don't care
if the captain of the football team
and the whole pity pep squad are coming.

I don't care if your mother made her special
pineapple upside-down pity or your father plans
to grill pity pups and hamburgers. Not even
if you have an exotic pity parrot that says
Polly want some pity, or if you have the newest
model Pontiac Pity that we can drive around in.
Head up to the hills, watch the sun set
and the bright lights of the big pity turn on.

It's your party, and you know what that means,
but it's not my style. You know what I always say.
I say, kill the people, and never let 'em see you sweat.
I always say this party's for the birds,
and who invited you, anyway, pal?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Render, Render

Thomas Lux

Boil it down: feet, skin, gristle,
bones, vertebrae, heart muscle, boil
it down, skim, and boil
again, dreams, history, add them and boil
again, boil and skim
in closed cauldrons, boil your horse, his hooves,
the runned-over dog you loved, the girl
by the pencil sharpener
who looked at you, looked away,
boil that for hours, render it
down, take more from the top as more settles to the bottom,
the heavier, the denser, throw in ache
and sperm, and a bead
of sweat that slid from your armpit to your waist
as you sat stiff-backed before a test, turn up
the fire, boil and skim, boil
some more, add a fever
and the virus that blinded an eye, now's the time
to add guilt and fear, throw
logs on the fire, coal, gasoline, throw
two goldfish in the pot (their swim bladders
used for "clearing"), boil and boil, render
it down and distill,
that for which there is no
other use at all, boil it down, down,
then stir it with rosewater, that
which is now one dense, fatty, scented red essence
which you smear on your lips
and go forth
to plant as many kisses upon the world
as the world can bear!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Little Tooth

Thomas Lux

Your baby grows a tooth, then two,
and four, and five, then she wants some meat
directly from the bone. It's all

over: she'll learn some words, she'll fall
in love with cretins, dolts, a sweet
talker on his way to jail. And you,

your wife, get old, flyblown, and rue
nothing. You did, you loved, your feet
are sore. It's dusk. Your daughter's tall.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

First Things To Hand

Robert Pinsky

In the skull kept on the desk.
In the spider-pod in the dust.

Or nowhere. In milkmaids, in loaves,
Or nowhere. And if Socrates leaves

His house in the morning,
When he returns in the evening

He will find Socrates waiting
On the doorstep. Buddha the stick

You use to clear the path,
And Buddha the dog-doo you flick

Away with it, nowhere or in each
Several thing you touch:

The dollar bill, the button
That works the television.

Even in the joke, the three
Words American men say

After making love. Where’s
The remote? In the tears

In things, proximate, intimate.
In the wired stem with root

And leaf nowhere of this lamp:
Brass base, aura of illumination,

Enlightenment, shade of grief.
Odor of the lamp, brazen.

The mind waiting in the mind
As in the first thing to hand.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Last Robot Song

Robert Pinsky (2009)

It was a little newborn god
That made the first instrument:
Sweet vibration of
Mind, mind, mind
Enclosed in its orbit.

He scooped out a turtle’s shell
And strung it with a rabbit’s guts.
O what a stroke to invent
Music from an empty case
Strung with bloody filaments—

The wiry rabbitflesh
Plucked or strummed,
Pulled taut across the gutted
Resonant hull of the turtle:
Music from strings that
Tremble over a hollow—
Sweet conception, sweet
Instrument of

Mind, mind, mind:
Itself a capable vibration
Thrumming from here to there
In the cloven brainflesh
Contained in its helmet of bone—
Like an electronic boxful
Of channels and filaments
Bundled inside its case,
A little musical robot

Dreamed up by the mind
Embedded in the brain
With its blood-warm channels
And its humming network
Of neurons, engendering

The newborn baby god—
As clever and violent
As his own instrument
Of sweet, all-consuming
Imagination, held
By its own vibration,

Mind, mind, mind pulled
Taut in its bony shell,
Dreaming up Heaven and Hell.

Friday, January 16, 2009


Kay Ryan (1996)

At high speeds
we know
when an orbit
starts to go
on fair rides
like the Hammer
or in airplane disasters,
our brains are
plastered to
one wall of the skull
or another;
we comprehend reverse
through the sudden compression
of matter.
In a way its worse
when the turn's wider—
say a boat on a soft tide
in mild water*#8212;
we hardly knew
that we were floating out.
The sense of turning back
seems like our fault.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Learning To Read

Franz Wright (2009)

If I had to look up every fifth or sixth word,
so what. I looked them up.
I had nowhere important to be.

My father was unavailable, and my mother
looked like she was about to break,
and not into blossom, every time I spoke.

My favorite was the Iliad. True,
I had trouble pronouncing the names,
but when was I going to pronounce them, and

to whom?
My stepfather maybe?
Number one, he could barely speak English;

two, he had sufficient intent
to smirk or knock me down
without any prompting from me.

Loneliness, boredom and terror
my motivation
fiercely fuelled.

I get down on my knees and thank God for them.

Du Fu, the Psalms, Whitman, Rilke.
Life has taught me
to understand books.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Nathalie Anderson (2009)

Eh he said and she
dreamed eh. It was
like that between them.

Not that his lips dreamed,
not that his dreamed lips
parted. Eh he’d say

and her dream was eh,
was all eh, all and
only. Sometimes

a near kiss an almost tide
drawn back withdrawn withdrawing.
Sometimes the hackled wave

raised, drew back its lip, sheered
its teeth, coughed its raw
guttural. Or

she herself voicing
involuntary eh
his whatever, his

what-it-is. But
sometimes his naked eh
with her ah alongside—

the rocked hulls nudging nuzzling
or was it scraping what
did she care? Would his eh

oh? How fast she’d
founder, taking on water,
mouth emptying full.

By day she’d hear on the air
his syllable, turn
toward or away, does it

matter? If she said ah
would he dream ah? Oh—
not like that between them.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

It Is Not A Word

Sara Teasdale (1884-1933)

It is not a word spoken,
Few words are said;
Nor even a look of the eyes
Nor a bend of the head,

But only a hush of the heart
That has too much to keep,
Only memories waking
That sleep so light a sleep.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Morning At The Window

T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)

They are rattling breakfast plates in basement kitchens,
And along the trampled edges of the street
I am aware of the damp souls of housemaids
Sprouting despondently at area gates.
The brown waves of fog toss up to me
Twisted faces from the bottom of the street,
And tear from a passer-by with muddy skirts
An aimless smile that hovers in the air
And vanishes along the level of the roofs.

Thursday, January 1, 2009


Richard Wilbur (2009)

O Egypt, Egypt—so the great lament
Of thrice-great Hermes went—
Nothing of thy religion shall remain
Save fables, which thy children shall disdain.
His grieving eye foresaw
The world’s bright fabric overthrown
Which married star to stone
And charged all things with awe.

And what, in that dismantled world, could be
More fabulous than he?
Had he existed? Was he but a name
Tacked on to forgeries which pressed the claim
Of every ancient quack—
That one could from a smoky cell
By talisman or spell
Coerce the Zodiac?

Still, still we summon him at midnight hour
To Milton’s pensive tower,
And hear him tell again how, then and now,
Creation is a house of mirrors, how
Each herb that sips the dew
Dazzles the eye with many small
Reflections of the All—
Which, after all, is true.