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Author: Jessica Doty

XI

An outhouse year.

Someone I love rips rags for tampons.

Someone I love speaks less & less.

Is the sky

ever too pink

to suggest you’re poor?

I am eleven—

having studied them

I introduce myself to Colonel Douglas R. and Jessica K. Smith

husband & wife

of Rockfords Golden Rule Market—

the Smiths of Asprey & Chanel

cashmere & city speech

of Beethoven’s italicized wonderment

I know because I asked

of Black-chauffeured blue Cadillac

& 2 Doberman Pinschers

guarding their brick Federal Colonial.

I am hired.

To neaten & clean,

to stock & cashier—

sometimes I pump gas.

On calendar-circled Saturdays

I utter Eames, rattan, Picasso

bone china, commissary, sparkle, miso

lacquer, Andrew Wyeth, linseed oil

poached, Shakespeare, Melba toast

duvet, Summer’s Eve, Harper Lee

salmon, invoice, Unleaded, Visa.

Slowly

I inch

my family away

from

government

milk & cheese.

from Sweetgum & LightningFind more by Rodney Terich Leonard at the library

Copyright © 2021 Rodney Terich Leonard
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

Still Still Still

It’s enough to sit down in the middle of the street,

the garbage trucks picking up trash,

the school buses stopping and starting,

the dirty rain falling from the neon clouds;

it’s enough to make you collapse in the middle of a speech you are

giving on human rights

or animal rights

or the right of the Earth to be as clean as it was 10,000 years ago;

enough to make you put down the pen, the gavel, the scalpel,

the international phone call,

and get on a bike and bike, hard,

to your child’s school, walk into her classroom,

and hold her tight

without apologizing to the teacher for your interruption;

it’s enough to toss the phone into the river, the computer into the lava pit,

turn to the person next to you

and offer them your hand, eye, maybe even a lung.

I’m saying I’m tired. We are all tired.

All around everyone is doing the best that they can do.

He makes the best pot roast,

she crafts the tallest building,

the bagel people whip up the best bagels,

the lovers love,

the students write the smartest papers on governmental corruption

as humanly possible and still, still, still,

there is someone outside the room with a backhoe

filled with battered Clorox bottles,

steel-tipped bullets, and vice grips ready to tear apart hearts.

It’s enough to take your feelings and slide them onto a towel,

all of your feelings, all of your human and animal feelings,

jam them into a towel,

all of your decency and rage and joy and bullshit and horror and

excitement,

walk out into the street and into the mountain, the cave and the field,

and wrap up any live thing you can find in that soft cloth,

the whole world of live things,

to turn back that backhoe,

push it away into some place in the imagination

that won’t even let us imagine it anymore.

from Mesmerizing Sadly BeautifulFind more by Matthew Lippman at the library

Copyright © 2020 Matthew Lippman
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

Ankles Like Ancient Birds

I am musing for amusements,

looking for something good.

Ancestral spirits back me up.

I am searching, and they are heaven-sent.

What is beautiful? It lasts an instant.

I hand out lists of lovers and reflections.

Someone writes me a letter in seismographic beeps.

This urn, that eclipse, a nightingale, all of it true—

I despise losing but do it masterfully.

(The dead pull on my ankles like ancient birds,

my soul, they think, in reach.)

And if sea sirens and shadow-making revelations

are stage tricks? If these are standard griefs?

from Forest with CastanetsFind more by Diane Mehta at the library

Copyright © 2018 Diane Mehta
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

The Date

This time we’ll come gloved & blind-

folded, we’ll arrive on time.

With bees in our hair,

with an escort of expiring swans.

We’ll appear to out-of-date & out-of-tune

violin music, we’ll lie on our side.

Wearing rotting lotus behind our ears,

musk between our thighs.

This time we’ll be tied down.

We’ll cry out.

We’ll only smoke if surprised

by tragedy’s approach, as it noses closer.

This time we’ll fall in love

with the blood color

of the sunset as we’re walking home

over the bridge that takes us

between here & there.

This time we’ll forget

how ancient Sarmatian lions go on

bearing marble messages for no one

who can understand their sarcophagus language,

forget sloths who climb so slow

they die before mating.

We’ll grow improvident & stop believing

there was ever such a thing

as alone, such a hard

nail in the coffin

for one.

from You Darling Thing Find more by Monica Ferrell at the library

Copyright © 2018 Monica Ferrell
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

Hummer of Anyone Decisive: 1915-1990

My grandfather—

John Walter Edwards strummed the guitar

under a sycamore tree.

City trash-truck worker,

curer of thrushes’ problems,

brought directly to holder & folder of his wallet,

my grandmother, Mary Emma.

New to the rise of millennium-ripped questions,

memory is technological; it lurks & it forgives

dilution & tint—

I have some questions from all the grandchildren:

Were you atheist or agnostic?

In your sphere, God was nowhere?

Why the austerity, so few words?

Leo-born to tempt & deter—

John to wife,

Daddy to Catherine

Willie Doris, Ruby

Johnnie Mae & Mary

Elizabeth, Dezzie & Louise.

Mr. John

to weekend women

& back porch bathers—

lithe hummer

of anyone decisive,

you sucked raw eggs.

Intro to empty:

your mother’s portrait, above

a bed, straight-nailed to the wall,

& never a ringing rotary—

did without,

as a way of being,

heal anything?

Young sergeant of Grand Forks,

here the tall tan men are sun

& though private, I am no secret.

“Big Deddy,”

this legacy of amours & faulting

darts my tumult.

from Sweetgum & LightningFind more by Rodney Terich Leonard at the library

Copyright © 2021 Rodney Terich Leonard
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

With Tailfins

Down, where your questions mirror mine

but we can never reach, there is more to say about time

diminishing as we get close, in my oxygen universe.

Cold blue blur and labored breathing.

I briefly shimmered, light diffusing.

How are we to be? If I dragged you down and down,

into deep-sea serenity, love would not be coastal.

History shivers along at a thousand meters

with its tailfins and soul-seeking dinosaurs.

We are peculiar rhythm in this scuba galaxy,

all dark dreams below waves that always crumble.

It is not enough to see the edges of eternity.

We dive recklessly for stingrays, swordfish, anemones.

Down and down, where the question is pure belief

not clarity, I bring you to this rendezvous with me.

I reach my hand into sun-shattering darkness, then pull it free.

from Forest with CastanetsFind more by Diane Mehta at the library

Copyright © 2018 Diane Mehta
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

I Wish

Tony Hoagland wrote a poem called “Dickhead.”

I wonder how many poems will be written entitled “Shithole?”

How a word becomes more than a word

is a terrible thing sometimes.

Last night, watching the football game,

my friend’s daughter, Orly, came downstairs

and handed us The New Yorker.

She is ten.

There was a picture of the president in a onesie

sucking on a pacifier.

She said, Makes me gross.

Her father said, Shithole, really loud.

She smiled, and said Shithole back.

That’s what happens now.

Across the country

ten-year-old kids wear baseball caps

with the word Shithole on the rim

and if you imagine it long and hard enough

it becomes the country of your body

which is a terrible thing.

A terrible, horrible thing.

I miss Tony Hoagland.

I miss his poem.

His poem is about the high school locker room

and jock straps

and other boys saying nasty things

and owning words

and turning words into sunflowers

when they have been bricks of coal

hurled at other people’s heads.

It makes me sad and the sadness takes over

when my friends’ ten-year-old daughter goes up to bed

and takes that word with her

instead of a book on rare gems,

or a cassette player with a mixed tape

her mother made for her

of all the cool songs from 1976,

the first one “I Wish.”

I wish Stevie Wonder, Tony Hoagland, and Orly¸

could sit down for dinner one night

adorned in long Technicolor robes,

laughing so hard that the sound of their laughter

eradicated the word Shithead from the lexicon,

erased it so thoroughly that there would be no more cartoons of him

in his infant clothes,

sucking his thumb,

watching television clips of himself into oblivion.

from Mesmerizing Sadly BeautifulFind more by Matthew Lippman at the library

Copyright © 2020 Matthew Lippman
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

Fastened to Roots, Love & Story: Mother Recalls a Ten-Pound Storm

Midwife of scarce warmth,

Mrs. Wilson’s lamplight air.

Her cod-liver tongue, talcum bosom

& cursive note of thorny expectations:

Come see me when I can best assist.

Bring two, bleached sheets.

My fee in 1970 a hundred dollars.

Aretha’s “I Say a Little Prayer”

Salt & sautée my mother’s lilt.

Closer to thirty than strength,

I straddle a stool; Salem’s ashes

Flicked in hair-grease top

Fastened to roots, love & story.

It’s Thursday before Thanksgiving—

Each half-mile, (she walks to & fro),

The moon, a vat of pelvic threat.

Scheduled curls oil the world.

Baby between thumb & formula,

The same day catching her & stove

Singing mismatched ditties: Yams

Meatloaf. Before I put on my makeup

The moment I wake up.

from Sweetgum & LightningFind more by Rodney Terich Leonard at the library

Copyright © 2021 Rodney Terich Leonard
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

The Waves

Old men on fourth-story balconies stare down at me,

Children pass by playing ball.

A mother takes in her plain tablecloth, frowning.

I will die

If before nightfall no one touches me.

There is a hospital in this town called Gli Incurabili,

They will take me there and lay me down on the bed like an ivory blade.

I will be pure as a virgin offering empty hands to Christ

And the world will throb beneath me like sea’s blue beneath its white.

from You Darling Thing Find more by Monica Ferrell at the library

Copyright © 2018 Monica Ferrell
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

Aphrodisiac Drift

Summer of bonfires in which I go swimming,

Spirit-animating breezes on which I am living

In formidable arrangements of bliss and despair,

Durably plural. I never promised I could fix it,

Derek, the mistakability of poems, words shuffling

In my head. It is midsummer again, with its steam-blaze

Atlantic sea-light and its fanatic infusions of sweet

Loss, its syllables inevitable. Make it rhythm, you said.

Your advice gave me twenty years of aphrodisiac drift.

I am swimming in the bonfire of summer in Brooklyn,

Barking at enchantments and climbing in caskets

I’ve loved. I’ve mapped a witch hunt for myself.

My crimes are too tiny and too interior to matter much.

I am a walking-awkward vernacular specific to myself.

from Forest with CastanetsFind more by Diane Mehta at the library

Copyright © 2018 Diane Mehta
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

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