“Glass of Water Encounter” — Terese Svoboda

“Glass of Water Encounter”

by

Terese Svoboda


She dances only in her necklace,
scotch-lit surely. He touches his glasses.

Nightie-less, dugs whipping, hair sprung,
some music inside, out, wet tongue

tip at her lip, no mere palsied shuffle,
both bony feet lifted, elbows awful.

Shakespeare’s banshee of wailing parts,
a woman with hair, a woman with warts.

He’s fixed to the floor. Dear Heloise:
do other presumed-sane mothers do this—

wait in the dark after the ball
to strip for their sons at the end of the hall?

A dream, insists his sister
but his first wife knows better.

All the wolves in the wolf factory paused at noon, for a moment of silence | “Laughing Gravy,” John Ashbery

“Some Bright Paintings” — Gilbert Sorrentino

“Trust” — Susan Kinsolving

“Ovid on Climate Change” — Eliza Griswold

“Ovid on Climate Change”

by

Eliza Griswold


Bastard, the other boys teased him,
till Phaethon unleashed the steeds
of Armageddon. He couldn’t hold
their reins. Driving the sun too close
to earth, the boy withered rivers,
torched Eucalyptus groves, until the hills
burst into flame, and the people’s blood
boiled through the skin. Ethiopia,
land of   burnt faces. In a boy’s rage
for a name, the myth of race begins.

“Sumptuous Destitution” — Anne Carson

“Sumptuous Destitution”

by

Anne Carson


“Sumptuous destitution”

Your opinion gives me a serious feeling. I would like to be what you deem me.

(Emily Dickinson letter 319 to Thomas Higginson)

is a phrase

You see my position is benighted.

(Emily Dickinson letter 268 to Thomas Higginson)

scholars use

She was too enigmatical a being for me to solve in an hours interview.

(Thomas Higginson letter 342a to Emily Dickinson)

of female

God made me [Sir] Master—I didn’t be—myself.

(Emily Dickinson letter 233 to Thomas Higginson)

silence.

Rushing among my small heart—and pushing aside the blood—

(Emily Dickinson letter 248 to Thomas Higginson)

Save what you can, Emily.

And when I try to organize—my little Force explodes—and leaves me bare and charred.

(Emily Dickinson letter 271 to Thomas Higginson)

Save every bit of thread.

Have you a little chest to put the Alive in?

(Emily Dickinson letter 233 to Thomas Higginson)

One of them may be

By Cock, said Ophelia.

(Emily Dickinson letter 268 to Thomas Higginson)

the way out of here

“Poet’s work” — Lorine Niedecker

“The Shelf” — Tom Disch

“Tavern” — Edna St. Vincent Millay

“Tavern”

by

Edna St. Vincent Millay


I’ll keep a little tavern
Below the high hill’s crest,
Wherein all grey-eyed people
May set them down and rest.

There shall be plates a-plenty,
And mugs to melt the chill
Of all the grey-eyed people
Who happen up the hill.

There sound will sleep the traveller,
And dream his journey’s end,
But I will rouse at midnight
The falling fire to tend.

Aye, ’tis a curious fancy—
But all the good I know
Was taught me out of two grey eyes
A long time ago.

“Classic Scene” — William Carlos Williams

“Classic Scene”

by

William Carlos Williams


A power-house
in the shape of
a red brick chair
90 feet high

on the seat of which
sit the figures
of two metal
stacks–aluminum–

commanding an area
of squalid shacks
side by side–
from one of which

buff smoke
streams while under
a grey sky
the other remains

passive today–

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Classic Landscape, 1931 by Charles Sheeler (1883–1965)

“The Preacher Addresses the Seminarians” — Christian Wiman

“The Preacher Addresses the Seminarians”

by

Christian Wiman


I tell you it’s a bitch existence some Sundays
and it’s no good pretending you don’t have to pretend,

don’t have to hitch up those gluefutured nags Hope and Help
and whip the sorry chariot of yourself

toward whatever hell your heaven is on days like these.
I tell you it takes some hunger heaven itself won’t slake

to be so twitchingly intent on the pretty organist’s pedaling,
so lizardly alert to the curvelessness of her choir robe.

Here it comes, brothers and sisters, the confession of sins,
hominy hominy, dipstick doxology, one more churchcurdled hymn

we don’t so much sing as haunt: grounded altos, gear-grinding tenors,
two score and ten gently bewildered men lip-synching along.

You’re up, Pastor. Bring on the unthunder. Some trickle-piss tangent
to reality. Some bit of the Gospel grueling out of you.

I tell you sometimes mercy means nothing
but release from this homiletic hologram, a little fleshstep

sideways, as it were, setting passion on autopilot (as if it weren’t!)
to gaze out in peace at your peaceless parishioners:

boozeglazes and facelifts, bad mortgages, bored marriages,
a masonry of faces at once specific and generic,

and here and there that rapt famished look that leaps
from person to person, year to year, like a holy flu.

All these little crevices into which you’ve crawled
like a chubby plumber with useless tools:

Here, have a verse for your wife’s death.
Here, have a death for your life’s curse.

I tell you some Sundays even the children’s sermon
— maybe especially this — sharks your gut

like a bite of tin some beer-guzzling goat
either drunkenly or mistakenly decides to sample.

I know what you’re thinking. Christ’s in this.
He’ll get to it, the old cunner, somewhere somehow

there’s the miracle meat, the aurora borealis blood,
every last atom compacted to a grave

and the one thing that every man must lose to save.
Well, friends, I’m here to tell you two things today.

First, though this is not, for me, one of those bilious abrading days,
though in fact I stand before you in a rage of faith

and have all good hope that you will all go help
untold souls back into their bodies,

ease the annihilating No above which they float,
the truth is our only savior is failure.

Which brings me to the second thing: that goat.
It was real. It is, as is usually the case, the displacement of agency

that is the lie. It was long ago, Mexico, my demon days:
It was a wager whose stakes I failed to appreciate.

He tottered. He flowered. He writhed time to a fraught quiet,
and kicked occasionally, and lay there twitching, watching me die.

“The Beach in August” — Weldon Kees

“The Beach in August”

by

Weldon Kees


The day the fat woman
In the bright blue bathing suit
Walked into the water and died,
I thought about the human
Condition. Pieces of old fruit
Came in and were left by the tide.

What I thought about the human
Condition was this: old fruit
Comes in and is left, and dries
In the sun. Another fat woman
In a dull green bathing suit
Dives into the water and dies.
The pulmotors glisten. It is noon.

We dry and die in the sun
While the seascape arranges old fruit,
Coming in and the tide, glistening
At noon. A woman, moderately stout,
In a nondescript bathing suit,
Swims to a pier. A tall woman
Steps toward the sea. One thinks about the human
Condition. The tide goes in and goes out.

At the airport-security checkpoint on my way to visit my grandmother | Claudia Rankine

From Don’t Let Me Be Lonely

by

Claudia Rankine


At the airport-security checkpoint on my way to visit my grandmother, I am asked to drink from my water bottle.

This water bottle?

That’s right. Open it and drink from it.

/

At the airport-security checkpoint on my way to visit my grandmother, I am asked to take off my shoes.

Take off my shoes?

Yes. Both Please.

/

At the airport-security checkpoint on my way to visit my grandmother, I am asked if I have a fever.

A fever? Really?

Yes. Really.

/

My grandmother is in a nursing home. It’s not bad. It doesn’t smell like pee. It doesn’t smell like anything. When I go to see her, as I walk through the hall past the common room and the nurses’ station, old person after old person puts out his or her hand to me. Steven, one says. Ann, another calls. It’s like being in a third-world country, but instead of food or money you are what is wanted, your company. In third-world coun­tries I have felt overwhelmingly American, calcium-rich, privileged, and white. Here, I feel young, lucky, and sad. Sad is one of those words that has given up its life for our country, it’s been a martyr for the American dream, it’s been neutralized, co-opted by our culture to suggest a tinge of discomfort that lasts the time it takes for this and then for that to happen, the time it takes to change a channel. But sadness is real because once it meant something real. It meant dignified, grave; it meant trustworthy; it meant exceptionally bad, deplor­able, shameful; it meant massive, weighty, forming a compact body; it meant falling heavily; and it meant of a color: dark. It meant dark in color, to darken. It meant me. I felt sad.

“A Poem to Read in August” — Gilbert Sorrentino

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“August” — Mary Oliver

“August”

by

Mary Oliver


Our neighbor, tall and blonde and vigorous, the mother
of many children, is sick. We did not know she was sick,
but she has come to the fence, walking like a woman
who is balancing a sword inside of her body, and besides
that her long hair is gone, it is short and, suddenly, gray.
I don’t recognize her. It even occurs to me that it might
be her mother. But it’s her own laughter-edged voice,
we have heard it for years over the hedges.

All summer the children, grown now and some of them
with children of their own, come to visit. They swim,
they go for long walks at the harbor, they make
dinner for twelve, for fifteen, for twenty. In the early
morning two daughters come to the garden and slowly
go through the precise and silent gestures of T’ai Chi.

They all smile. Their father smiles too, and builds
castles on the shore with the children, and drives back to
the city, and drives back to the country. A carpenter is
hired—a roof repaired, a porch rebuilt. Everything that
can be fixed.

June, July, August. Every day, we hear their laughter. I
think of the painting by van Gogh, the man in the chair.
Everything wrong, and nowhere to go. His hands over
his eyes.


 

800px-van_gogh_-_trauernder_alter_mann

“Epitaph” — Edna St. Vincent Millay

Screenshot 2020-07-27 at 10.49.39 AM

“Photograph of a Gathering of People Waving” — Clarence Major

“Photograph of a Gathering of People Waving”

by

Clarence Major


based on an old photograph bought in a
shop at Half Moon Bay, summer, 1999

No sound, the whole thing.
Unknown folk. People waving from a hillside of ripple grass
to people below in an ongoing meadow.

Side rows of trees waving in a tide of wind,
and because what is moving is not moving,
you catch a state of stasis.

Opposite of this inactivity
you imagine distant music and buzzing and crickets
and that special hot smell of summer.

To the garden past the Bay to the meadow,
cliff sheltered with low clouds, offset by nodding thistle.
Tatter-wort and Stinking Tommy along footpath
worn down by locals. But who and why?

In the photograph itself you’re now looking the other way
to unknown clusters of houses.
Where forces are balanced to near perfection.

Who could live
in such a great swollen silence and solitude?
You hear church bells
from Our Lady’s Tears breaking that silence nicely
but just in the right way so silence continues
as though nothing else matters day after day.

And anyway, each face seems so familiar.

What do you do when you wave back?
You wave vigorously.
You remember your own meadow,
your cliffside and town,
photographs forgotten,
the halfhearted motion of your hand,
your grandmother’s church-folk
gathering on a Sunday afternoon in saintly quietness.

You name the people
whose names are not written on the back.
You forgive them for wrapping themselves in silence.

You enter house after house and open top-floor windows
and you wave down to future generations like this.