“The River of Bees” — W.S. Merwin

“The River of Bees”


W.S. Merwin

In a dream I returned to the river of bees
Five orange trees by the bridge and
Beside two mills my house
Into whose courtyard a blindman followed
The goats and stood singing
Of what was older

Soon it will be fifteen years

He was old he will have fallen into his eyes

I took my eyes
A long way to the calendars
Room after room asking how shall I live

One of the ends is made of streets
One man processions carry through it
Empty bottles their
Image of hope
It was offered to me by name

Once once and once
In the same city I was born
Asking what shall I say

He will have fallen into his mouth
Men think they are better than grass

I return to his voice rising like a forkful of hay

He was old he is not real nothing is real
Nor the noise of death drawing water

We are the echo of the future

On the door it says what to do to survive
But we were not born to survive
Only to live

“Noah’s Raven” — W.S. Merwin

“Noah’s Raven”


W.S. Merwin

Why should I have returned?
My knowledge would not fit into theirs.
I found untouched the desert of the unknown,
Big enough for my feet. It is my home.
It is always beyond them. The future
Splits the present with the echo of my voice.
Hoarse with fulfillment, I never made promises.

“Long, Too Long America” — Walt Whitman

“The Coahoma County Wind Cults” — David Berman

“The Coahoma County Wind Cults”


David Berman

My dream walked on four legs
toward the remote source
of a pale yellow letter

only to circle around the cabin
when it got there.

A black and white cave rainbow
arched between two old shoes.

Oxygen bounced off the face of a doll,
looking for the slow dazzling guts
of a life form.

There was a moment of sudden clarity
when the pages of burned in opera glasses,

like a herd crossing zip codes

or an exhausted idea pressing
at the limits of the marquee bulbs,

my dream pushes air.

“Occurrence on Washburn Avenue” — Regan Huff

“Occurrence on Washburn Avenue”


Regan Huff

Alice’s first strike gets a pat on the back,
her second a cheer from Betty Woszinski
who’s just back from knee surgery. Her third—
“A turkey!” Molly calls out—raises everyone’s eyes.
They clap. Teresa looks up from the bar.
At the fourth the girls stop seeing their own pins wobble.
They watch the little X’s fill the row on Alice’s screen—
That’s five. That’s six. There’s a holy space
around her like a saint come down to bowl
with the Tuesday Ladies in Thorp, Wisconsin.
Teresa runs to get Al, and Fran calls Billy
at the Exxon. The bar crowds with silent men.
No one’s cheering. No one’s bowling now
except Alice’s team, rolling their balls
to advance the screen around to Alice, who’s stopped
even her nervous laugh, her face blank and smooth
with concentration. It can’t go on
and then it does go on, the white bar
reading “Silver Dollar Chicken” lowering and clearing
nothing, then lowering and clearing nothing again.

Cruelest month

“Arrested Saturday Night” — Stephen Dobyns

“Primer” — Rita Dove

Rita Dove

In the sixth grade I was chased home by
the Gatlin kids, three skinny sisters
in rolled-down bobby socks. Hissing
Brainiac! and Mrs. Stringbean!, they trod my heel.
I knew my body was no big deal
but never thought to retort: who’s
calling who skinny? (Besides, I knew
they’d beat me up.) I survived
their shoves across the schoolyard
because my five-foot-zero mother drove up
in her Caddie to shake them down to size.
Nothing could get me into that car.
I took the long way home, swore
I’d show them all: I would grow up.

“Armor” — Sharon Olds

“On Trout” — Anne Carson

“There is another Loneliness” — Emily Dickinson

There is another Loneliness
That many die without —
Not want of friend occasions it
Or circumstances of Lot

But nature, sometimes, sometimes thought
And whoso it befall
Is richer than could be revealed
By mortal numeral —

Look at the boy and apologize | Claudia Rankine

“Fox” — Rita Dove



Rita Dove

She knew what
she was and so
was capable
of anything
could imagine.
She loved what
she was, there
for the taking,

She imagined
She loved
nothing more
than what she had,
which was enough
for her,
which was more
than any man
could handle.

“News” — Grace Paley

“The Unexplorer” — Edna St. Vincent Millay


Grandfather — Michael S. Harper



Michael S. Harper

In 1915 my grandfather’s
neighbors surrounded his house
near the dayline he ran
on the Hudson
in Catskill, NY
and thought they’d burn
his family out
in a movie they’d just seen
and be rid of his kind:
the death of a lone black
family is the Birth
of a Nation,
or so they thought.
His 5’4” waiter gait
quenched the white jacket smile
he’d brought back from watered
polish of my father
on the turning seats,
and he asked his neighbors
up on his thatched porch
for the first blossom of fire
that would bring him down.
They went away, his nation,
spittooning their torched necks
in the shadows of the riverboat
they’d seen, posse decomposing;
and I see him on Sutter
with white bag from your
restaurant, challenged by his first
grandson to a foot-race
he will win in white clothes.

I see him as he buys galoshes
for his railed yard near Mineo’s
metal shop, where roses jump
as the el circles his house
toward Brooklyn, where his rain fell;
and I see cigar smoke in his eyes,
chocolate Madison Square Garden chews
he breaks on his set teeth,
stitched up after cancer,
the great white nation immovable
as his weight wilts
and he is on a porch
that won’t hold my arms,
or the legs of the race run
forwards, or the film
played backwards on his grandson’s eyes.

“Abraham Lincoln of Rock Spring Farm” — Melvin B. Tolson

“Abraham Lincoln of Rock Spring Farm”


Melvin B. Tolson



Along the Wilderness Road, through Cumberland Gap,
The black ox hours limped toward Sunday’s sun,
Across a buff clay belt with scrawls of stone,
Where bird and beast quailed in the bosom brush
From February’s fang and claw; the stars,
Blue white, like sheer icicles, spired aglow
As if the three wise men barged in the East
Or priests in sackcloth balked the Scourge of God.

Foursquare by the rite of arm and heart and law,
The scrubby log cabin dared the compass points
Of Rock Spring farm, man’s world, God’s universe,
The babel of the circumstance and era.
The frozen socket of its window stared
Beyond the spayed crabapple trees, to where
The skulls of hills, the skeletons of barrens,
Lay quiet as time without the watch’s tick.

Not knowing muck and star would vie for him,
The man Tom sank upon ax-split stool,
Hands fisted, feet set wide to brace the spirit,
Big shoulders shoved, dark hazel eyes glazed by
Grotesqueries of flame that yawled and danced
Up, up, the stick-clay chimney. While fire imps combed
The black and bristling hair, the acids of thoughts
Made of the orby face an etching-plate.


Near pyrotechnic logs, the purling kettle,
Aunt Peggy puffed her pipe on God’s rich time:
A granny at a childbed on the border,
Where head and backbone answered the tomahawk
Her wise old eyes had seen a hundred Nancys
In travail tread the dark winepress alone;
Her wise old hands had plucked a stubborn breed
Into the outer world of pitch and toss.

The cabin that her myth and mission entered
Became a castle in which Aunt Peggy throned
A dynasty of grunts and nods and glances.
The nest, the barn, the hovel had schooled her in
The ABC of motherhood, and somehow
She’d lost her ego in the commonweal:
She sensed so accurately a coming child
That rakes dubbed her the St. Bernard of Sex!

And now her keyhole look explored Tom Lincoln
Beneath the patched homespun, the hue and cry
Of malice, until she touched his loneliness,
The taproot that his fiber gave no tongue.
Then, lulling the wife, troubled in flesh and mind,
She eased the sack quilts higher and mused the while:
There’s but one way of coming into the world,
And seven times seventy ways of leaving it!


The woman Nancy, like a voyager sucked
Into the sea’s whale belly by a wreck,
Buoyed to the surface air of consciousness
And clutched the solace of her corn-husk bed.
Her dark face, sharped in forehead, cheekbone, chin,
Cuddled in dark brown hair; her eyes waxed grayer
With wonder of the interlude: her beauty
And courage choked Aunt Peggy’s hyperbole!

Out of the fog of pain, the bog of bygones,
The bag of cabin cant and tavern tattle,
She picked the squares to piece tomorrow’s quilt:
She puzzled now, as then, about her father
Who let wild Lucy Hanks bundle and carry
Flesh of his flesh beyond the Cumberland Gap;
A strange roof is no roof when imps of fear
Pilfer the fatherless in blossom time.

Year in, year out, the daughter tinkered with
The riddle of her birth; the mother chided
The woman Nancy as she had the child,
“Hush thee, hush thee, thy father’s a gentleman.”
The butt of bawd, grand jury, Sunday bonnet,
Lucy, driven, taught her daughter the Word,
And Nancy, driven, taught her son the Word,
And Abraham, driven, taught his people the Word!


The man Tom bit his fingernails, then rammed
His pockets with the hector hands that gave
Raw timber the shape of cabinet and coffin,
And in his lame speech said: “Aunt Peggy, listen,
Now that our Nancy’s time is come, I’m haunted
By my own nothingness. Why breed nobodies?”
He tapped the dirt floor with the iron-capped boot
That aided fist and skull in border fights.

Aunt Peggy counseled: “Tom, you say the say
Poor Joseph probably said in that low stable
Ere Jesus came into this mishmash world.”
She paused, then boxed the ears of cynicism:
“It’s true, down in the barnyard, blood speaks loud,
Among the hogs, the chickens, the cows, the horses;
But, when it comes to Man, who knows, who knows
What greatness feeds down in the lowliest mother?”

The man Tom turned and spat: his naked surmise
Ranged out and out. Aunt Peggy’s innermost said:
“Your father Abraham, bred like Daniel Boone,
Conquered a land with gun and ax and plow,
Baptized it in his blood! I say, I’ve said,
What’s in a baby is God Almighty’s business;
How the elders wring it out is worry enough!
The best, the worst—it’s all, all human nature.”


The tavern, Tom remembered, the New Year’s Eve,
The clubfoot scholar bagged in Old World clothes,
With arrowy eyes and a hoary mushroom beard.
An Oxford don, he hymned the Bastille’s fall
In spite of the hair-hung sword; his betters set
Him free to hail new truths in new lands, where
He seined with slave and master, knave and priest,
And out of all fished up the rights of man:

“As Citizen Lincoln asks, ‘What’s human nature?’
His full mug says a clear mind puts the question
Which ties the fogey scholar in a knot!
My new idea fed to his new baby
Would fetch the New World and the New Year peace!
The sum of anything unriddles the riddle:
The child whose wet nurse is the mother-of-all
Grows like a pine unmarked by rock or wind.

“To make a New World and a New Year, Plato
And Jesus begged the boon of little children!
Now Citizen Lincoln asks, ‘What’s human nature?’
It’s what we elders have: no baby has it.
It’s what our good and bad graft on the neutral.
It’s what our rulers feed the boy and girl.
It’s what society garbs nature in.
It’s a misnomer: call it human nurture!”


Aunt Peggy hovered closer, with flawless rites
Grown lyrical from habit: muffled pain sounds
Dragged from the bed of cleated poles; she hawed
Tom Lincoln, as one turns a nag aside,
Then swooped her way, even as a setting hen
Carves a dictatorship from yard to nest.
And Tom again was squeezed into a cell
Whose inmates were the ghosts of unsuccess.

Later his memories climbed a gala peak,
His Nancy’s infare that ran riotous:
The bear meat, venison, wild turkey, duck,
The maple sugar hanging for the whiskey,
The red ham, gourds of syrup, bowls of honey,
The wood coal pit with brown and juicy sheep,
The guzzling, fiddling, guttling, monkeyshining:
A continent sprawled between that day and this!

A havenot on the frontier is no havenot;
A Crusoe without Friday has no conscience:
Yet Tom’s grub living gnawed him like the teeth
Of slavery, land titles, melancholy.
He, like his forebears, visioned a Promised Land
And tidied ways and means to fly the barrens
That doomed the flesh to peck, to patch, to pinch,
And wrung the soul of joy and beauty dry.


The black ox hours limped by, and day crawled after.
White prongs of ice, like dinosaur fangs, gleamed in
The cavernous mouth of Rock Spring; snowbirds shivered
And chirped rebellion; a cow with jags and gaps
Chewed emptily; hogs squealed in hunger fits;
And scrags of dogs huddled against the chimney,
Which shoveled smoke dust into the throats and noses
Of ragged winds kicking up snow in the desert.

Nancy lay white, serene, like virgin milk
After the udder’s fury in the pail.
Beneath the sack quilts and the bearskin robe,
In yellow petticoat and linsey shirt,
The baby snuggled at her breast and gurgled—
An anonymity of soft red wrinkles.
Aunt Peggy, hovering, grinned, “He’s Sabbath-born.
Remember …Sunday—it’s red-letter day!”

Like ax and helve, like scythe and snath, the bond
Held Tom and Nancy; she smiled at his halt smile,
His titan’s muss in picking up the baby.
Tom frowned and spat, then gulped, “He’s legs! All legs!”
Aunt Peggy beamed, “Long legs can eat up miles.”
Tom gloomed, “The hands—look at the axman’s hands!”
And Nancy mused, “The Hankses’ dream, the Lincolns’,
Needs such a man to hew and blaze the way.”