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Category archive for: Poems

Radio silence, WENZ, WJMO, Cleveland

I start down the road but I’m the road. Or

the stripes on the road. White. Edgeindicative.

A professor says, the history

of American music is Black history. He says it

to get a rise out of us but it’s true. Or might be

as true as anything. He’s teaching poetry

to a room of grad students paying

out the nose for degrees their parents

and other practical people know

to be without use. A road is practical.

Stoplights, guardrails, signage

regarding the merging of lanes:

practical. As a kid I learned

about the safety on a gun. A red button

pushed to keep it from firing. I learned

on a BB gun. For killing bats

in the family’s summer cabin. I presume

all guns have safeties, but I don’t know

a lot about them. I know it’s easier

to aim when you’re afraid. I know

how fear rises up from the knees, how it runs

up through the gut into the hands. I started

down this road and now I’m the road so

here: a man waited 1.5 seconds

to shoot a Black boy playing

with a toy gun. The man

was a white man. Police

man. The boy was twelve, was Tamir, is

dead. The history of guns is a history

of safeties. I start down the road

but I’m the gun. I start

down the road but I’m the person

on the phone calling 911. I say it

to get a rise out of me. I say something

about safeties. Something about

Tamir’s sister tried to run to him

but was tackled and handcuffed

while he bled out from the gut

on the playground. It’s important

to say this. It is a thing my people

did. The term “paying out the nose”

has its origins in a Danish law

whereby delinquent taxpayers

were punished by having

their noses slit. It’s history. In an area

with a history of avalanches, signs

are posted: Falling Rock. In an area

with a history of murder, streets are named

after assassinated Black leaders. When I say

a history of murder, I do not mean music

though white men love murder ballads.

I do not mean music though frat boys

use Lil Wayne lyrics as an excuse

to say the N-word in public. Years ago

a man told me the history of American music

is Black history, and I believed him.

Turn it up now, whatever station it is.

I don’t know how to end this.

from Poetry Northwest 12.1 Summer & Fall 2017More by Marty McConnell from the library

Copyright © Marty McConnell
Used with the permission of the author
on behalf of Poetry Northwest.

The Saints Don’t Think of You Fondly

The saints have been squatting in my home

again. They can’t agree on the exact reason

for leaving paradise, but most nod when

the patron saint of the falsely accused says

he was tired of all the light. It always comes

back to light. I ask what’s to be done about

June’s rent? Some pull hands out of robe

folds holding stale loaves and palm fronds,

but the patron saint of the art a child could

have made is the first in the growing line,

offering me divine inspiration to paint

two red squares colliding. The tabloid

saint advises me on how to use cucumber

slices to sip cellulite from my thighs, while

the patron saint of cosmonauts provides

Komarov’s last words with the preface,

I know you have been searching. These

saints are used to Cain and Abel—love

measured in sacrifice. These saints are

starting to ask what you have earned.

They’re taking up your room, filling my

bed with cupped hands. Under the sheets,

the saint of depressed ex-lovers tells me

which men still hold my sweaters to their

mouths, but she doesn’t offer up my sweaters.

Her brother, the saint of you are not like

the others reads me a book of women who

have heard the same from you. It is getting

harder to sleep with all the knees sunk into my

back, with the smell of snuffed candles, but I

would still prefer to stay in tonight, because I’m

not the patron saint of rain. I’m not the patron

saint of moths hurtling toward well-lit windows.

from Poetry Northwest 11.2 Winter & Spring 2017More by Paige Lewis from the library

Copyright © Paige Lewis
Used with the permission of the author
on behalf of Poetry Northwest.

Heaving 75-lb. rock

Plate 311—Eadward Muybridge

The rock at the same plane as the shorn head.

As if the man is listening to the rock and the rock

is unwilling to enter the world that awaits.

It is the new opera, this law of contingencies.

The rock, held there in the man’s right palm.

The relation between them in which the body

and the body are two animals, asleep

in the camera’s eye. Their stringent, physical link.

There is, between them, the mute and reciprocal

understanding. His forearm towards the camera.

Together the rock and the man’s elbow fuse into

an exclamation point, inverted to express

the power of the man’s body. The rock is warmed

by the man’s face as he stands there. The stillness

which is also the potential coalesces into shadows

across both faces—the rock and the man.

His jaw fixed in the direction he will throw

in a later frame, but in this one he brings

his left arm up. His hand splays out to catch

the stone as his left leg anchors him. Disperses

the weight exploding forward as his torso leans.

The uncertainty of the rock’s trajectory—the possibilities

turn in a span of light. The way the light distributes

and integrates the man’s hands into the object

so the eye, deceived, sees a fusion of the two.

The man and the rock mistaken for a denser image.

And now he has brought the other hand up,

his head obscured by his left arm. The rock

rising above him so that it is a sun. And he is

a god. The relation between them,

momentum. The relation between them, negated

with a thought. As when the man’s right arm moves

across his face, arcs, and releases what was his.

from Poetry Northwest 08.2 Fall & Winter 2013-2014More by Oliver de la Paz from the library

Copyright © Oliver de la Paz
Used with the permission of the author
on behalf of Poetry Northwest.

Flight

How small

The bones in an ear.

When my mother was born,

Her father’s ship

Was breaking. Think

Of the fragile steel. Think

Of the young men falling

Into water, the young men

Crashing planes

That explode inside of ships.

Think of a bird’s

Velocity. Not mass, as much

As light. Think

Of the kamikaze—how late

Did he close his eyes?

Hear a shell cracking, hear

A monstrous cavern

Hatching. Imagine

Your body’s the cavern.

Imagine the light

When you set your mouth

And fly.

My grandfather

Amputated

A young man’s leg

To keep him alive. Think

Of what moves

In the heaviness of bone.

Think of the cochlea—

The ear’s own fish. Think

Of salt water’s cavern

Beneath a splitting hull

And fear

How small the blade

There was no morphine—

Nothing tender and white

To fill the hollow

In anyone’s mind.

On shore,

Children left to die.

On shore, daughters diving

From cliffs, their young bodies

Smashing. Think of girls

In an invaded land.

Think of breaking

The self, leaving it

Behind. Think of Hiroshima

In a few hot months. When

Did the kamikaze

Close his eyes? Think

Of light and the dead

On every side, think

Of grief’s own speed.

Think of the dead

With their open eyes

And what the living

Leave to the water.

Think of the velocity

Of time. My grandfather

Might have lived

Inside his moving hands

And numbed all of the rest.

And the other man?

They were two

Of the young who survived.

My grandfather went home,

Alive, to a daughter

Who did not smell

Of burning skin.

Think of the moment

When you’d have to close your eyes

And numb all of the rest.

Think of water

On a single leather boot. Think

Of the foot’s firm stance.

Its twenty-six bones.

Think of an anvil

Waiting in the ear.

from Poetry Northwest 12.1 Summer & Fall 2017More by Christine Robbins from the library

Copyright © Christine Robbins
Used with the permission of the author
on behalf of Poetry Northwest.

The West is a Place That Kills and Kills and Kills

They made it up one morning

to keep the money busy

and kill everyone else

I lean against the gas station wall

a few miles outside Yellowstone

sketching a stranger’s face

under the dirty skillet of night

What will save me is the taste of miles

killed with the wheel of blank stars

with alone sound of struck string

on the dead highway

I’m working mink oil into my boots

mountain lions drag elk to the cabin door

The old man we pick up in Browning

coughs diesel and range

Snow blocks us from fishing the reservoir

wiper blade waving as if to flag us down

A dog pisses on my tackle box at the Conoco

The guide who leads us here

catches fish like a covenant he’s entered into

Will such mastery save me It doesn’t him

Halfway up another river the Lostine

trout lacquer over calico stone

Early sparrow calls us together

into the tent which I zip up in one motion

The yearling sets deer-heel

down in payment on flattest moss

Like any river its job is to take away

A friend’s son dies

A week in their house full and desolate

opens a room inside me

throws open slams the door

Outside the battlefield garden’s left to nettle

bone-white trellis an old-time tragedian

The roof is molting

The porch is wolving

In the garage I find no rake

only the animal we’ve been hunting and avoiding

still in the bat’s tooth of its cage

from Poetry Northwest 05.2 Fall & Winter 2010 & 2011More by Ed Skoog from the library

Copyright © Ed Skoog
Used with the permission of the author
on behalf of Poetry Northwest.

Security

The kid walks up to the fence.

He is bleeding from his leg

and arm and face and chest.

Imagine what looks like hoof-

prints of blood splattered all

over, almost comical; there’s no

need for that much blood.

I’m just off break. I’m union.

We get two breaks per shift.

I sleep in the back of my car.

It’s my time. I can do whatever

I want for those fifteen

minutes. My hair sticks up.

He says he needs help. I go

to dial 911 and he says, Ain’t

you 911? No, I’m not a cop,

I say, I’m an EMT. Doesn’t

that stand for medical some-

thing? I tell him I’m an EMT

for the factory. I can’t climb

over the fence. He says he’ll

climb over the fence. I tell him

no, that I have to call the cops

if he does that. I feel like an

idiot. He tries to climb but

he’s too cut up, too hurt. I

ask what happened. I see

a kid behind him, lying there.

What happened? I ask. Just

playin’ around. I’ve seen

patients with this much blood

before. We have workers

whose arms get caught in

the machinery. They get

degloved and eviscerated,

avulsions. I get them too.

A drunk employee punched

me in the cheek before,

the eye really, the cosmos

I see permanently if I close it.

I tell the kid that he’s gotta stay

on his side of the fence. I have

to stay on mine. He tells me

I’ll burn in hell. The factory

behind me pours smoke out

like it’s fighting to own the sky.

I ask where he’s bleeding

the most. He says he doesn’t

know. I say it again, angry.

He tells me his leg. I tell him

to put pressure on it, to not

take the pressure off. I tell him

to put it above his heart. He says

he can’t, it’s his leg. I tell him

to figure it out. How do you get

your leg above your heart? He lies

down. He holds his leg. The kid

in the background starts holding

his own arm. They’re controlling

the blood. I get down on the ground

and I look up at the sky too.

from Poetry Northwest 13.1 Summer & Fall 2018More by Ron Riekki from the library

Copyright © Ron Riekki
Used with the permission of the author
on behalf of Poetry Northwest.

Elegy

refuses the absence it names; but nothing exists.

Like when I remember I’ve forgotten a word

and I walk through my day where the trees exist

saying over to myself inv- inv- so sure the word begins

with the letter i, a word that means something

about ice and how light reflects heat off of it.

When I say intaglio I know that is wrong

but in my mouth there is no other word to say.

That is not forgetting; but forgetting exists.

I read many poems in a day and after many

I simply say, I don’t know. I don’t know

what it is or how it works. I don’t know

what it means if it means anything at all,

or if that desire is some nostalgia for what

no longer exists. I tell myself to grow up;

I am grown up. I feel it in my need to confess.

When I look at my life I see I’ve entered

into equivalency. So many forms of likeness

to struggle with—now I am one more example

of Philip Guston’s later paintings. Not

those early works of subtle abstraction

where difference maintains an almost classical

sense of shame, but where a cartoon arm

holds a cartoon hammer and it must knock

down the brick wall the same hand built.

I know I’ve grown out of touch

when I tell a group of people gathered around

that I feel as if I’ve let Mr. John Keats down

and they all laugh as if—

as if I’d made a joke. This poem is an elegy.

I tried to make that clear in the title.

I see I’ve wasted my life in distractions

when all along I felt so focused, so diligent,

so “at work.” I don’t have consumption

nor do I want it. I’ve read enough about wasting

diseases to harbor any romantic notions.

But wouldn’t it be nice to say, “I’m wasting away”

and have this proof of the skin pulled away from the bone

and never springing back? I can say it, but

I have no proof. I think there’s a word for this condition.

I walk through my day in which clouds exist,

and so do birds; birds exist, and so do children;

children exist, and their teeth; pillows exist,

and so does sorrow; and sleep. I walk through the day

half-asleep saying to myself sch- sch-

shaking my head, no, that’s not it, cho- cho-

and when as a child with the whip of a willow stick

I swept off the heads of the dandelions while I walked,

I say school. School. No, chorus. But that’s not it.

from Poetry Northwest 09.1 Summer & Fall 2014More by Dan Beachy-Quick from the library

Copyright © Dan Beachy-Quick
Used with the permission of the author
on behalf of Poetry Northwest.

The Fire Always Starts From The Underside

on gay sanctuary land in Tennessee

We all practiced cutting down a tree.

Held the ax/

held our breath/we watched it fall

across a creek/we needed

a bridge. We had been many years

without one and we needed one.

We all practiced gathering things/we

showed one another our piles. There

was water. Birds all black, with maybe

a head shaped like this: [redacted]

Held hands before each meal.

Did and did not want to share.

I wore the fox’s face

to the family pictures. You

were a lamb and a bear.

from Poetry Northwest 13.1 Summer & Fall 2018More by Oliver Bendorf from the library

Copyright © Oliver Bendorf
Used with the permission of the author
on behalf of Poetry Northwest.

Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States

said in the third person

The number of Americans

killed annually by

jihadist immigrants 2

armed toddlers 21

lightning 31

lawnmowers 69

falling out of bed 737

total and complete

shutdown why stop

with Muslims

ban babies lightning

lawn mowers beds

send them back to where

they came from

lay down

in the tall grass

no fear of falling

no middle of the night

patter of feet no child

sliding between the sheets

squeezing between you

and the nothingness

you sleep next to

lay down in the tall grass

listen to the thunder

watch lightning’s

absence course

through the clouds

the dark sky

darkening.

from Poetry Northwest 12.2 Winter & Spring 2018More by T.J. Sandella from the library

Copyright © T.J. Sandella
Used with the permission of the author
on behalf of Poetry Northwest.

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.