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Category archive for: Poems

My Students See Emmett Till’s Body

They don’t look away,

though I’ve warned that there’s no

shame in turning their heads,

that when Emmett’s mother says

People should see, they will see

what they can’t un-see. The shape

above the buttoned collar of the shirt

confusing, what is it?

A thing in a suit.

The nose is what gives it away

makes it plain that this is a face

of a boy their age, their same

taffy color. Gabriel in the back row

touches his own nose lightly

with his own dark finger.

He traces its edges

While Jasmine frames her face

with her hands, covers her eyes

and mouth, then uncovers them

to see how Emmett’s nose orients

the other features of his face,

provides a center to the swelling,

now they see, of the cheek,

his mouth, now they see it,

it’s a mouth. Davina’s mouth

is a pressed-tight line.

When she turns to me, her eyes

are wells of un-knowing.

I don’t know what she’s thinking.

Tonight I’ll go home and look

at my own face in the mirror.

I won’t know what I’m thinking

except that I have a nose

that no one wants to hack

from my face, skin the color

of cottonseed mixed with blood,

the white of a mother’s red-rimmed eye.

I have a neck no one wants

to barb or break, a face that

a white man would break

a black boy’s neck for looking at

too long or in the wrong way

or not at all.

I have two eyes to look

at whatever I want, a mouth,

unbroken teeth, a tongue,

a voice I don’t know

what to do with. But if I knew

how to whistle, wouldn’t I?

from Poetry Northwest 10.1 Summer & Fall 2015More by Meghan Dunn from the library

Copyright © Meghan Dunn
Used with the permission of the author
on behalf of Poetry Northwest.

Frank Stanford and Gram Parsons Meet Little Walter

It was winderous, even the bare branches a-shaking.

The Indian took out a chicken foot and scratched his neck with it.

There was some men working on a bridge and below one man’s job was to wait with a boat in case someone fell.

Spike said things go slant sometimes.

Man hands you a pocketknife with the blade closed you hand it back with the blade closed. Open, open.

The Mississippi saxophone runs on breath coming and going.

What light does on water is a manifestation.

Men working, they talk about dogs; they talk about their mamas.

A little boat is jostlesome.

Water under the bridge, my friend, that’s what a bridge is for.

The Indian said the old ways were overrated, nobody ever mentioned all the coughing.

Five dollars says I could survive a fall, rocks and all.

Who decides where a bridge needs to be?

The man with the boat’s job was to be on the job.

From the bridge the water looks spanglety.

One guy had a cross tattooed on his back. He just had to know it’s there.

Men working on a bridge don’t cross it.

When you go, what you leave goes with you.

from Poetry Northwest 12.2 Winter & Spring 2018More by Michael Chitwood from the library

Copyright © Michael Chitwood
Used with the permission of the author
on behalf of Poetry Northwest.

The Clock of the Long Now

I know what’s going down out there

from the apocalyptic sunsets lately

scraping the sky red and purple like

a bruised clavicle. It’s a tiny miniscule

bit of noise, but still: the litter of fences

and factories, the town seeping like a stain

into the surrounding fields. When Monet

couldn’t tolerate the incoherence

of the streets, he went back to painting

landscapes he would construct himself

just for the purpose of painting them.

And I’m telling the truth when I say

I’ve heard a guy busking on his guitar

in the strip mall outside the Goodwill

and next to the Food Lion. When I go in

for groceries, he’s singing “I have become

comfortably numb,” a little high and

a little sharp, and then when I come out,

he’s doing “Hallelujah,” and both of these

sentiments are simultaneously accurate:

DepressedBlessed would be the hashtag.

On the car radio today a woman lectured

about mid-life, told us to have goals, get

hobbies, create our own milestones

around athletics. I take notes on an

orange and yellow Virginia Lottery

Ticket with a stubby pencil: mark

boxes as shown ⌧. When my son

ate a pencil—colored, blue—his tongue

became an ocean of sorrow. A group

of sea otters resting together is called

a raft. You and I, we lashed whatever

we had in our pockets with string

and set the parcel gently on the sea.

I’ve heard the sounds of a waterfall

cascading from 148 speakers. I’ve

heard the cat crunching kibble and

the trees shushing the fields as I write this.

I’ve heard the rubber band that binds

us extricably to one another snap back

against our skin and leave a mark.

I’ve heard a car engine gasp, then

turn over in the parking lot of that

numb hallelujah strip mall and maybe

Monet was onto something. In his

Painting “Boulevard St. Denis, Argentuil,

Winter,” he captures the exact moment

the sun struggles to break through

a light snowfall. There’s a path, a fence,

a town; figures hurrying with umbrellas;

snow takes the edges off of most things;

but it’s the sun—the yellow light riveting,

sickly, the opposite of triumphant.

from Poetry Northwest 12.2 Winter & Spring 2018More by Erika Meitner from the library

Copyright © Erika Meitner
Used with the permission of the author
on behalf of Poetry Northwest.

The Book of Clouds

When the time came to tell the story,

he wrote it down in beautifully measured

cadences that touched lightly upon

all the old verities. He erased each line

as soon as it was perfected and then

proceeded to the space below it where

he composed another small perfection

to follow at its heels, loping behind

with the unhurried gait of a stray dog

so that in the ensuing months and years

he filled many hundreds of pages with

a most resonant and haunting emptiness

and had, at last, a manuscript stacked

like a chiseled white brick on the table.

It glowed softly in the light of dusk.

Before long it became the unspoken talk

of the town. When asked by the radio host

why he hadn’t simply used a single page,

writing each line in the space voided

by the erasure of the line before, he smiled

and said, Surely, my book is not a work

of history, a lineage of dead kings where

each generation consumes the previous

so that the present moment is no more

than a smeared blur of déjà vu and nothing

moves but that it spins. No, my book

is words fallen into a contemplative silence

because the ache and joy they once carried

was torn so roughly away by the invisible

hands of the wind.

I see, said the radio host,

then repeated the phrase, unaware of the ironies

she conjured by using those particular words.

Given this is radio, said the man, might

I ask your listeners to imagine clouds?

High clouds in an autumn sky, stalking

the sun in silence. They tear their hair

in the running wind. They move in slow

feathers. Clouds embody the eternal

whether. Even as we look at them, they

change their minds. If God could return

as a cloud, he might come as cumulus.

He would accumulate himself in cream

then topple down in thunderous nothings—

Well, that sounds good, interrupted the host,

but how do we know your book’s not just

a bunch of blank pages?

You don’t, he said.

And in the pause that followed, hundreds

of listeners phoned in to swear that they

had seen his face.

But what’s it matter, really?

he continued.

A book’s not

meant to be read, after all. It’s meant to be

held in the hands and felt, hefted and cradled

close against one’s heart like a wounded child.

from Poetry Northwest 12.1 Summer & Fall 2017More by Michael Bazzett from the library

Copyright © Michael Bazzett
Used with the permission of the author
on behalf of Poetry Northwest.

One man band

In the dream I’m a man

who doesn’t remember dreams. A man

sitting quietly on a bench

not remembering dreams.

Pigeons ask my hands for bread

my hands don’t have but they might have

in the dreams I don’t recall. In the dream

of the poem that is the only dream

I recall, I feel the lake

formed when the river

cut off the oxbow after years

of abrading dirt to a shape that looks

from the sky like a jew’s harp

is a metaphor for wanting to be

a musical instrument. Specifically,

my elation is a clarinet, my dread

a tuba, I get the sense

there’s a band in me waiting

for someone to say, a one

and a two and a three, which is the lit fuse,

near as I can tell, of such a fine ruckus

that people get quiet and stare off

at their own little bit of nothing as if

it is everything.

from Poetry Northwest 05.1 Spring & Summer 2010More by Bob Hicok from the library

Copyright © Bob Hicok
Used with the permission of the author
on behalf of Poetry Northwest.

The E-Ray

My son is asking where his gun is and talking about needing to build his bomb, but it’s not what you think.

This episode of Batman has a gorilla villain who uses a gun and a bomb to turn humans into super-evolved gorillas like him.

So now my son carries around a plastic Fisher Price golf bag and calls it his e-ray, for evolution ray, and points it at us, KSHH.

My husband, Batman, gets his hand on the e-ray, changes the setting, and uses it to turn my son into a human. And he cries.

He’s acting, but it’s good, in that it’s sad. So my husband changes him back and he dances around the kitchen.

Later I’m crying in bed watching Cake Boss because Buddy recreated the top tier of his wedding cake for his wife on their anniversary and handmade all the sugar flowers, and she cared about that.

Not that I’m judging her. I’d like to be a woman delighted by cake. I’d like to be a woman who’s eaten a sugar flower.

Gum paste flower. Modeling chocolate flower. Buttercream flower. My mouth full of them. My husband’s mouth full of them. My son’s mouth full of them.

No—I’m hoping there’s a woman that’s at ease somewhere. So at ease in her life.

from Poetry Northwest 11.1 Summer & Fall 2016More by Sarah Blake from the library

Copyright © Sarah Blake
Used with the permission of the author
on behalf of Poetry Northwest.

Altadena

Some streets curve. Not all the streets go through.

From a nearby stadium sounds

of a cheering crowd. You were going to teach;

I was going to be a house husband

and write. The man living with his mother

half a block away drank during

the day in a pickup he’d park by our house

while we were at work. He’d throw empties

underneath our oleander hedge. Everything

seems present and past at the same time.

past tense like, Remember how nights the city lights

slowed like embers? Present like, I wonder

if water still drips into the fireplace

when it rains. Summers neighbors we never saw

drained their swimming pool into the street.

Parrots made a racket in the palms.

Exotic trees stained the asphalt

jacaranda purple, olive black.

After wind storms the litter of seeds, seedpods,

fronds. Jehovah’s Witnesses, briefcases in hand,

at the front door. A family

of raccoons knocking over trash cans,

a clatter like they were playing.

A Ford Mustang waiting to be restored.

Coyotes trotting down the middle

of the road, dazed, as if they’d expected

to find themselves somewhere else.

Stairs that once lead to a hotel entrance

leading nowhere, just foundations remaining.

Low-hanging phone lines, insulation drooping,

blue sky tangled in wires.

Roosters, peacocks in people’s yards.

Police helicopters. Once or twice gunfire

that seemed a safe distance away.

On clear days the ocean

a distant glint of sunlight through the trees.

from Poetry Northwest 09.2 Winter & Spring 2015More by Brian Satrom from the library

Copyright © Brian Satrom
Used with the permission of the author
on behalf of Poetry Northwest.

Helicopter, Chernobyl

https://youtu.be/zuNtgYtF4FI

A blade in slow motion

strikes a construction crane—

and this reminds me they’re called birds:

the copter stills, tilts, drops

like a shot bird,

dragging a bucket of sand for the meltdown.

I rerun the 21-second film.

When its blade strikes a crane

the helicopter stalls, unsure

how to exit the scene.

(Belly up, crumpling.)

The blade strikes a crane

and the bird descends out of eyeshot,

crashing offscreen.

What exactly am I feeling?

So I repeat it. It’s a fly brushed

from the face of God,

in the face of what can’t be contained.

A blade strikes the crane;

the bird’s descent

is another melting and becomes

Winslow Homer’s painting of ducks

stilled in flight by a hunter’s gun—

or radiation.

Or was it just snow on my TV that April,

enveloping the pilot

and a map of Europe?

What was happening to us all?

Not yet certain

what I was seeing, watching a bird—

or was it a sky—fall.

from Poetry Northwest 11.1 Summer & Fall 2016More by Kathleen Flenniken from the library

Copyright © Kathleen Flenniken
Used with the permission of the author
on behalf of Poetry Northwest.

This Before All the Laws

I feel what they mean about actual love—as a child

I did a lot of kneeling in the backseat.

I’d watch what we passed

or be passed

first and sometimes be scared

because one

was following.

Or maybe it’s more a marching band—

into the wind/ of an aisle/ to the bar/ on a south-bound/ Amtrack/ train—

all that neglect

in my oncoming childhood— maybe it went like

deep in the bends

of a country-dark road, you shift

the seat

of your stranded car—and

there—not ten feet from it—

a coyote comes

too close.

Look at him: He looks at me.

The whites of his eyes are equal teeth. That wing

of the bird he’s got in his mouth

half-eaten/ is still beating—

from Poetry Northwest 11.1 Summer & Fall 2016More by Kary Wayson from the library

Copyright © Kary Wayson
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.