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Author: Cameron Martin

Ode to My Father’s Failed Heart

It’s okay. I, too, have failed

at the expected, have sputtered

and choked like a rusty valve

in water, have jumped into the pool

only to sink. Little engine, your flawed

machinery is nothing like love. You limp

at last call to the dance floor,

but feel no shame

in your offbeat two-step,

your eleventh-hour shuffle

in a dead man’s shoes.

There’s nothing left

but the encore, so go ahead:

relax, unravel

like a loosened knot. Overripe

fruit in his chest, you blush

with uncertainty, bruise yourself

tender; little heart, tiny treasure,

sweeten to the point of spoil.

from ErouFind more by Maya Phillips at the library

Copyright © 2019 Maya Phillips
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

But A Guy Goes By

A guy goes by with a long loaf of bread on his human shoulder.

And after that I’m going to write about my doppelgänger?

In the alley, I see a girl looking for meat scraps and orange rinds.

Is now when I’m supposed to write about the Infinite?

Another guy, sitting on the curb, scratches himself, nabs a louse

in his armpit, smashes it. And we’re going to chat about psychoanalysis?

A homeless woman’s sidewalk-sleeping—her foot’s behind her back!

And I’m going to meet a friend so we can talk about Picasso?

Some other guy, swinging a stick at my bones, has invaded my body.

So then, later, at the doctor’s, I’m going to talk about investments?

This crippled dude goes wobbling by with a big kid, arm in arm.

And after that—what? I’m going to read the art reviews?

Someone is shuddering in the dark. Coughing, spitting blood.

When exactly would it be appropriate to theorize the Inner Self?

A roofer falls, he dies, and from now on he goes without lunch.

So now I’m going to invent some flashy new poetic effects?

This diamonds-bought-and-sold guy—he uses rigged scale weights.

So . . . make sure everybody at the opera sees that you’re weeping?

Too near my building, this skinny guy deals heroin laced with fentanyl.

Is this really the time to take alien sperm and astral travel seriously?

The old couple at a funeral, crying as they walk holding hands—

and what’s the protocol when you’re voted into the Academy?

Sitting at the kitchen table, somebody’s lovingly cleaning his handgun.

What exactly is the good of talking about where we go after we die?

A girl’s run over by a local Nazi aiming his station wagon at her.

And we have to hear about “very nice people on both sides” and not scream?

A neighborhood granny goes by counting something on her fingers.

And the biggies are saying we must make sure the banks are OK?

after César Vallejo (1937)

from RenditionsFind more by Reginald Gibbons at the library

Copyright © 2021 Reginald Gibbons
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

Problemata

In the Preamble, Gouverneur Morris refers, poetically,

to the “domestic tranquility” shattered by rebelling

veterans who, unable to pay mounting war taxes, confronted

the state for having seized their homes. They argued

their point with bayonets fixed to their flintlock rifles. Point being

that blood should have been enough, as it was in their barter

economy, to square their debt in the Revolution.

Morris could not abide an economy that imagined exchange

in such discrete terms. For him, every shilling appraised on an altar

of speculative devotions, every home subject to the metaphoric

notion of home, the value of tranquility proportionate

to the power one has to gerrymander the metaphor.

Consider the dear evangelists who canvass our homes

saturday mornings, who share their pamphlets and good

words, their domestic concerns swelling with their

longing for the fellowship of us. spinoza gives us

this reason not to opt off of their call lists: The good

which a man desires for himself and loves, he will love

more constantly if he sees that others love it also;

he will therefore endeavor that others should love it also.

Be tolerant of their attention, their pursuit of agape,

a planet-sized chip they bear on their shoulders

from house to house, door to door, welcome

or not, blessing whatever they find inside.

I finally friended my brother.

It may be we will never

speak again. Why speak

when we have this crystal ball

through which

to judge one another’s lives?

I imagine this is what

the afterlife will be like.

I’m ghost, we say

instead of goodbye.

It is nearly July in Brooklyn and already

the fireworks from Chinatown warehouses

are bursting in stellar fluorescence like tinsel-tied

dreadlocks above the Bushwick tenements and the brownstone

blocks of Bed-Stuy now littered with the skittering

décollage of wrappers exploded across blacktops and handball

courts, playgrounds and sidewalks knuckled by tree roots.

My neighbor’s teenaged boys argue who possesses the greatest

patriotism. Just as pit bulls chained to their fists imply

their roughly domesticated manhood,

they seek to demonstrate their patriotism with bottle

rockets, spinners, petards, these household paraphernalia of war.

The competition is vigorous, draws spectators and blood.

When the smoke clears, no charges

are filed. We neighbors waver distractedly a moment

before tracing our paths back into our quiet homes.

from DigestFind more by Gregory Pardlo at the library

Copyright © 2014 Gregory Pardlo
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

Anniversary Argonautica

He had meant to say witch

but lost the w somewhere between

Colchis and Corinth. The word chips

the back of his teeth on the way out.

Could he fan it away or

breathe it in like smoke?

She eyes him like a cancer

just starting to spread.

He regards her like the first

dark cloud in the sky. Now,

years later, they know without

saying. They have nothing

to give each other but

this: words that fall just short

of leaving, that thunder

like a crew going down with the ship.

from ErouFind more by Maya Phillips at the library

Copyright © 2019 Maya Phillips
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

Portrait in Sugar and Simple Prayer

The language of sugar isn’t difficult

to master. One learns it as easily as

any other tongue. You may not believe me,

but it is true. As a boy, lost in the cane fields,

I made a mistake (Who doesn’t make mistakes?)

and, for this small error, I was punished, the sweet

sugarcane becoming weapon, becoming punisher.

Each time the man brought the body

of the cane stalk down across my back,

I cried out. Would you believe me if I told you

that today I wouldn’t even whimper at such a thing?

Because now I know how to brandish a stalk,

how to bring it down as testament, how to make

the nothing of air sing before the strike. And because,

well, now I know how to accept punishment as well.

You punish or are punished. It really is that simple.

Dominus, Holy Father, I have hidden myself

in the cane field. I may have sinned. My back is bare

and in need of your administrations. Not salt

in the wound, Lord, but sugar. Sugar as sharp

as the metallic taste of blood in the mouth.

Make me regret this, Lord. Make me…

Strike me, Lord, strike me harder than any man.

Make of me something sweeter than sugar.

from PrometeoFind more by C. Dale Young at the library

Copyright © 2021 C. Dale Young
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

The God Eros, Who Cannot Be Thwarted

overpowers not just

and unjust human beings

only, but animals

too—and even the breath of

gods trembles, shakes, stops, bursts,

when Eros wings into them,

even from far away,

at their culmination. Great

Zeus Himself retreats some-

times from the overthrowing

comeliness of mortal

bodies. He Himself is far

too weak—even He!—to

ward off Eros. Even He

wants, more than anything,

anything, just to give in.

Sophocles (5th century BCE)

from RenditionsFind more by Reginald Gibbons at the library

Copyright © 2021 Reginald Gibbons
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

Augury

they’ll arrive at the house

in the poem where the man,

who is the father, who is

the husband, who is the body

in the earth—

but we haven’t

gotten there yet;

we are in the car

with his mother and sister,

who are talking— people-talk,

busy-talk, light nothing-talk

of a weekend afternoon—

on their way to visit

the son, the brother,after

two days, no word and

the fear

that lives   like a soreness

in the back of the throat.   and now

his mother thinks maybe

of silence, of her   son, who

has always been a child of

silence, and now is this all

it will be?   but

not yet, there’s just time

now for these still-harmless

thoughts,   these nothing-

thoughts   nervous nothing-

thoughts   of the living.

because when the car pulls up

to the house, it is only   a house

and not a foreshadowing or

a place of   ends   or beginnings.

It is just plaster and bricks

and a door where there is no

answer, which sounds like —

[what they already know].

but they have been wrong

before; they may be wrong

again.   please let them not be

prophets;   let them not be

the ferrymen to their own grief.

let them be

wrong and human and

unknowing.   and if the side door

is open, let them go in

and greet only   the living.

and if his sister calls and there is

no answer, perhaps her brother

is simply unhearing,   silent.

perhaps her brother is simply sleeping

in silence—but

is there only such a silence

as the grave?

because his mother knows

before she sees it—

the it,   not him,   of the son—

no longer

her

son,         no longer

the breath or voice of her

son.   there he is.   and she

already knows but   still

tests the air with the question,

calls his name     once just

to watch it   fall.

from ErouFind more by Maya Phillips at the library

Copyright © 2019 Maya Phillips
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

Written by Himself

I was born in minutes in a roadside kitchen a skillet

whispering my name. I was born to rainwater and lye;

I was born across the river where I

was borrowed with clothespins, a harrow tooth,

broadsides sewn in my shoes. I returned, though

it please you, through no fault of my own,

pockets filled with coffee grounds and eggshells.

I was born still and superstitious; I bore an unexpected burden.

I gave birth, I gave blessing, I gave rise to suspicion.

I was born abandoned outdoors in the heat-shaped air,

air drifting like spirits and old windows.

I was born a fraction and a cipher and a ledger entry;

I was an index of first lines when I was born.

I was born waist-deep stubborn in the water crying

ain’t I a woman and a brother I was born

to this hall of mirrors, this horror storyIwas

born with a prologue of references, pursued

by mosquitoes and thieves, I was born passing

off the problem of the twentieth century: I was born.

I read minds before I could read fishes and loaves;

I walked a piece of the way alone before I was born.

from DigestFind more by Gregory Pardlo at the library

Copyright © 2014 Gregory Pardlo
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

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