national poetry month

[poetry month] "Our Ways" by Dara Wier


I didn’t want to be the one who took the last thing. So said
The wind while it took what it pleased. Soon the wind fell
Into its long weird strong silent passing making loose wires
Hum and turning leafy branches into industrial-strength brushes.
It took us away onto edges of a broken legend. We rode on
A hundred horses whose teeth were ignited. Our flags filtered
Through fresh slots in our chests. Where we were one with the wind
It filled in our blind spots. Close to our chests did we hold windy
Notes left to direct us to a string of high ledges where we’d sleep
For the sake of sleeping with heavy chains on our ankles.
To dream up another way was our first assignment. Assigned to
Adventure said the motto on our buttons. The last thing we knew
Before we left with our satchels concerned how love withdraws
Moving backward taking with it everything, our names, this way.

— Dara Wier, from You Good Thing, Wave Books, 2013.


[poetry month] #134 by Elizabeth Schmuhl


The tomatoes look just like me
swollen and holey
ants crawling in and out of every
crevice, taking what they need.

I am looking at the sun waiting
as my insides feed hundreds of mouths.

This skin, sun stained, perfuming. Will the birds
come for what’s left of me and how far from here
will they take me?

Let it be far and let it be soon.

— Elizabeth Schmuhl, from Premonitions, Wayne State University Press, 2018.


[poetry month] "Son" by Forrest Gander


It’s not the mirror that is draped, but
what remains unspoken between us. Why

say anything about death, inevitability, how
the body comes to deploy the myriad worm

as if it were a manageable concept not
searing exquisite singularity. To serve it up like

a eulogy or a tale of my or your own
suffering. Some kind of self-abasement.

And so we continue waking to a decapitated sun and trees
continue to irk me. The heart of charity

bears its own set of genomes. You lug a bacterial swarm
in the crook of your knee, and through my guts

writhe helminth parasites. Who was ever only themselves?
At Leptis Magna, when your mother & I were young, we came across

statues of gods with their faces and feet cracked off by vandals. But
for the row of guardian Medusa heads. No one so brave to deface those.

When she spoke, when your mother spoke, even the leashed
greyhound stood transfixed. I stood transfixed.

I gave my life to strangers; I kept it from the ones I love.
Her one arterial child. It is just in you her blood runs.

— Forrest Gander, from Be With, New Directions, 2018.

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[poetry month] "You Know Something Wrong By Its Difference From Something Right" by Kate Schapira


In this portrait, I failed and it fit
me like a hollow twin.
In that stale apartment
I deflated.
In reduced circumstances
less and less happens.

Scissors on the table.
What do they do there?
Where is their strong word? In

a settle of disrepair. Anything caught
in creases stays there.

Having made others do it
I didn’t even invent being old.
Objects ranged at hand
from tissues to the phone

in the wrong order.
A big-lensed wait. A lax chin.
The skin fit. I nailed it up.

— Kate Schapira, from Handbook for Hands that Alter As We Hold Them Out, Horse Less Press, 2016.


[poetry month] "A Refrain, Sung Once, to Herself" by Carrie Oeding


One day, I worry, you will tell me
everything I’ve told you.

What do you have to say for yourself?


Did you think I wouldn’t be listening?

I don’t know.

There is a moon born every time I say alone
and tonight its light has left me sore.
I can see my breath, and I wonder about everything —
how I’m going to get home,
how to answer What’s your story?
how to ask you to walk with me.

“Listen, listen,” the moon, my polished child, says, “On your knees.”
I put my ear to the road.
I cut my hand on street glass.
I hear a sigh, I hear a step, I see you
ignoring the shadows, walking toward me.
I couldn’t say just anything.

— Carrie Oeding, from Our List of Solutions, 42 Miles Press, 2011.


[poetry month] "Poem to Remind My Heart to Beat" by Lynn Melnick


No matter the upright life I’ve been trying to lead
I keep looking for new ways to bluff myself

so hard I’m always pleading for relief, frantically
trying to locate whatever blunt object would sock me

into unconsciousness, I know what it’s like
to be powerless

on a shag rug. When I tell you — come closer,
closer, look how pretty I am, come closer, close —

I will bury you there
in this petri dish of what-went-wrong

growing in its dozens of gruesome sequences.
It’s October, slowly

the webs arch iron railings, the pumpkins appear
like cautions, vigilant but motionless.

I would like that, my mood stabbed into me,
triangle eyes blinking only the fire

behind them. Come closer, close: look how pretty
I died on the shag rug, but you still

remember me. Autumn never did to me
what it did to others, a beauty to admire

right before the end.
I’ve been wrinkling, slowly, closer,

I need you to cuff me to whatever
apparatus will pump the blood into

and out of my heart. Cut me open with chill-
in-the-air, carve into me a face that can over-

take this unreasonable face. Closer, take me
apart in your arms, I am not any brilliant color but

the dried brown leaf of the season folded over
and stepped on by whatever step rushes

where any step is rushing to in all these crumbled pieces
and in all these pieces I am sending myself

into the air to see where I land.

— Lynn Melnick, from Landscape with Sex and Violence, Yes Yes Books, 2017.


[poetry month] "Yours Truly" by Kate Colby


I can’t see light at the end
of this blinding tunnel

until I cover my hand with
my eyes. A slack tide’s

brown leaves pack against
the breachway. Some plastic

trash is in it. Two wind-
bent men watch a severed

red-and-white fishing bob
bobbing away. If/when

“over” means “forever,”
I need you to possess me,

not like “occupy,”
but “empty.”

— Kate Colby, from The Arrangements, Four Way Books, 2018.


[poetry month] "Your Mouth Is Full of Birds" by Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello


You asked me once at dawn about forgiveness and I said
I didn’t think you had any need to be forgiven and you said

nothing, pointing instead to the tangerine branches
heavy with five-petaled flowers and a rookery of crows branded

like oiled umber in the sunlight. How grave the silences tucked
in each wing and beneath your tongue, silences you later tucked

into my suitcase when I wasn’t looking, letters written in memory
whose creases I smoothed over and over until I could remember

the gray trunks of the tangerine orchards, how each flower smelled,
each fruit peeled and quartered, full of tongues that still swell

in my dreams and burst into a hundred miles of telephone wires,
the silhouettes of birds still attached. Now, after all this while,

when you come to me at night with your mouth full of birds,
I think that you meant your forgave me for the rookery,

because they left their wings on my window, not yours. Oh how they follow
me still through this city, crying for you with every red-throated swallow.

— Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello, from Hour of the Ox, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2016.

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[poetry month] "Stay" by Lee Herrick


I am not what you thought
an ocean would look like,
but once a fire starts in you,
there will always be ash.
There are long walks, thank
goodness, there are woods
to be small in, there are
anchors to the world so
you will not fly away before
it is time. The miracle of grass,
even though you may forget it,
the fact that you are loved,
even though you may forget it,
and what a miracle that is —
being loved — or more so,
that you are a wide blue ocean
capable of loving, you churning
body of sea life who survived
the oil spills, the broken glass,
the dead birds floating in the bay.

— Lee Herrick, from Scar and Flower, Word Poetry, 2019.

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[poetry month] "Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles" by Sally Wen Mao


In Lijiang, the sign outside your hostel
glares: Ride alone, ride alone, ride
alone — it taunts you for the mileage
of your solitude, must be past

thousands, for you rode this plane
alone, this train alone, you’ll ride
this bus alone well into the summer night,
well into the next hamlet, town,

city, the next century, as the trees twitch
and the clouds wane and the tides
quiver and the galaxies tilt and the sun
spins us another lonely cycle, you’ll

wonder if this compass will ever change.
The sun doesn’t need more heat,
so why should you? The trees don’t need
to be close, so why should you?

The sea is full of jetsam tonight. A thousand
miles away, you think of shores,
arriving at the KTV bar in Lijiang, listening,
A song comes up: Jay-Z with Rihanna,
umbrella-ella-ella-eh, strangers singing
into the strange night, and it’s like home to you,
this cocktail of ashes dusting your knees.
This city is famous for yak meat, rhododendron,
and one-night stands. You wait for yours
to show up. He works at the bar, looks like Takeshi
Kaneshiro. He clutches your waist as you ask
for more songs, more wine, more fruit.
Another: Teresa Teng, whose voice is the song
you have in common. “The Moon Represents
My Heart” — but tonight the moon represents
your sorrow in the Old Town Square.
Later as you lie in the cheap hotel in the electric
New City, Takeshi tells you he has never
left this province his whole life.
His family grows a peach orchard, and the fattest
peaches ripen in September. Where can I mail
you a peach?
he asks. Tell him you’re flying
to Indonesia. He asks why you’re going
somewhere so far away. Say: in Manhattan,
there are thousands of gargoyles
that travel around the world
as everyone sleeps.
Say: in Brooklyn, there is a chance
to rebuild a life from trash —
long-stemmed roses blooming
in the dumpsters, bodegas spilling purple
dragonfruit still good to eat.
Say: one morning outside Bryant Park,
you stood watching a garbage
fire destroy a basket of rotten mangoes.
Within five minutes, firefighters
came to extinguish it. You peered inside
afterward, and the nothing you saw
was wet and dark and smoldering.
Above you, a crane lifted a tiny man higher
and higher, until light stretched
his limbs into a sheaf of minerals.
He was dust before the wrecking
ball swung.

This land promises snowfall. This land promises windfall.
This land promises the return of brief days. May this land
promise you a body, some muscle, some organ, a brain.

Some ribs made of dark tinder, their insides lit, all vesicle,
atrium. May this kindling promise you a hearth and last

past your dread, October’s sleet, past scarred trees, then winter,
then mend and on and onward and orbit so you are blank
as memory, turn into paper — crinkle, burn, and finally open.

— Sally Wen Mao, from Oculus, Graywolf Press, 2019.

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[poetry month] "Waiting Room" by Carolina Ebeid


You can’t carry around on your back the corpse
of your father
— Apollinaire

The sun is hoisted already. A flag. An awful bell.
Then the blue form asks me to assemble my medical family tree.

There are diseases whose syllables
on the tongue sit tart & dulcet
as a slice of pear chilled by the morning.

Then all the prescriptive grammarians wake up, one after
another, mimicking sidewalk birds dashing to safer heights.

Reader, can we have a meaningful exchange without
you knowing how I assemble heaven? The air’s
poignant with male peacocks. The air’s stony

& clean as altitudes above which no trees will grow.
All my father’s sadnesses begin to stomp & huff

as a line of bridled Central Park horses.
He brushes them. He feeds them seaweed.
It’s good for the teeth & the heart.

I have my father’s hair, which was once a lion’s-hide-
vermillion. You can’t carry around the corpse of a lion.

Looking at slides of a CT scan,
you may hold an idea of the body
as a junky steel contraption that can

be fixed. A figment of propellers here & at the center
an heirloom engine, oiled & intricate.

— Carolina Ebeid, from You Ask Me To Talk About The Interior, Noemi Press, 2016.


[poetry month] "The Facility Finder" by Jordan Davis


I was pleased to discover America.
It cheered me up to hear everybody else fighting.
When I finally gave my hostility a name
I started cleaning up after it like a proper pet.
It felt great to make a fuzzy electrical sound.
Holding my place on line with the book
of my one thousand doodles gave me
inordinate feelings of pride. Or ordinate, maybe.
The sun making wavy lines on the roofs
of the parking lot, the waves making
a glint-covered sunset on the roof of my heart,
the roofs keeping me my accustomed level
of damp, it all meant one thing: tautology
is the energy source of the future, and you
are the one I want beside me in the vehicle,
our hands on each other’s knees,
shouting our heads off to the music
recorded on this obsolete medium
as a low-cost way to express our earliest vibes.

— Jordan Davis, from Shell Game, Edge Books, 2018.

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[poetry month] "Midnight Sun" by Kim Hyesoon

Day Five

A letter arrives from a place where your reply can’t be sent

That you’re already here
That you’ve already left you

A shimmering letter arrives from the hole that knows everything

Like the brain that sees all too clearly after death, a bright letter arrives
Like the days before you were born, a widely wide letter without yesterday
or tomorrow arrives

Soft chiming of bells from a carriage made of light
Giggles of a girl in pants made of light, knocking on the nightless world

The last train runs above ground
the world where all the trains on the platform light up at once and silently
forget about you

You can’t go, for you are footless, but the children of your childhood are
already there
A letter arrives from that bright hole where not even a reply in black can be

where your children age in front of you
from that place where you departed to, to be reincarnated

A letter arrives, written in ink of brightly bright light

from that place where you’ve never encountered darkness
an enormously enormous letter arrives
a brilliant light a newborn greets for the first time

—Kim Hyesoon, from Autobiography of Death, New Directions, 2018, translated by Don Mee Choi

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