[poetry month] "Sometimes when I'm walking on this street" by Emily Jungmin Yoon


I want to lie down on that patch of dirt and grass.
I’m tired and lonely. On the bus the other day
we passed by an albino tree. You were next to me
and said we need to go back there and look at it,
then flew out the next day. Does white seem cold
or hot to you. We can pretend the tree was full
of ember. On this street are yellow leaves, cool
and aloof. This morning I woke up shivering.
I’d like to tell you of the dream I had, how
I was on a bus to Anmyeondo. I was alone
but you were next to me when we got to the sea.
I’d like to tell you that we found our way
to the island. But I’ve forgotten everything else.

— Emily Jungmin Yoon, from A Cruelty Special to Our Species, Harper Collins, 2018.


[poetry month] "X" by Ruben Quesada


I stand on the side of the road waiting
for rescue there was a time when youthful

sunsets were plum colored lights kissing snow
covered rooftops joy was a love letter
about the splintered edge of sentient
glaciers in Iceland melting into pale
green sea dreams of sleepy street lights

I am not alone an owl glides and its body billows
above into the pink anemone of dusk
into an open-mouthed window
where a skyline of high rises watch
cars ripple by like sequins stretched from coast

to coast everywhere every spring bloodied
cherry blossoms grow below back scattered
starlight I move toward approaching headlights
that conjure snowfall my nose burns somewhere

the thick arms of a pinyon pine smokes and as I call
out a dole of doves surges from my mouth like steam

— Ruben Quesada, from Revelations, Sibling Rivalry Press, 2018.


[poetry month] "Intentionalities" by Rosmarie Waldrop


My hand moves along your thigh. When we describe intentions, is the
ventriloquist taken over by the dummy? Or pretending to be a ghost?

Instead of “I meant you,” I could say, “We walked through wet streets,
toward a dark well.” But could I speak of you this way? And why does it
sound wrong to say “I meant you by pulling away?” Like lovers caught
in headlights?

If I talk of you it connects me to you. By an infinite of betweens, not by
touching you in the dark. Touch is the sense I place outside myself for
you to ride.

When I mean you I may show it — if we stand close — by putting my head
on your shoulder. You can show you understand by describing the well
under the trap door. What will you say? Don’t be frightened?

The feeling I have when I mean you draws an arc of strength between
my hips and the small of my back. It doesn’t follow that “meaning you” is
being exhilarated by terror. Of course not, you say: We need a red thread
to run through, but it’s entangled with space, form, future. Is this true?

It would be wrong to say that meaning you stands for a forgotten part
of myself, a treatise on labyrinths, a path leading nowhere. Am I living
in a shell where the sea comes in along with its sound? And drowns us?

I was speaking of you because I wanted to think about you. “I wanted”
does not describe a general before battle. Nor, on the other hand, a ship
heading for shipwreck. There is no way to decide whether this is an auto-
biography or a manifesto.

— Rosmarie Waldrop, from Gap Gardening, New Directions, 2016.


[poetry month] "History As a War of Poses" by Farid Matuk


Ahhh kiss from you, love, then the planted field of eucalyptus
seeping into gold, cow dust,
molten car hoods and the freeways of California fall.
Just over is the ocean
but among these peeling, white-stockinged legs of
eucalyptus is one way I never thought about my father
as I had of Des Esseintes appearing from among the black silks,
the black wools of
the wake for his fresh dead
virility, poising a piece of blackberry meat
between his teeth —
the finest hip in Europe, opium cooked, laid down as the next
salvo in history as a war of poses.


Hector and I in his pick-up claim
the desert of California as our relative end
then interrupt a white boy shooting cans by the off-road trail.
The poem, which is the vehicle for the hero, is in the thousand,
the impossibly, the five
starred night
in the sow
for us cousins it’s in the idea of the White Boy who comes
from stories of wolf-mother teats and jackal-father pistols
goat fucking under the above-mentioned night
the squinting horizon trained barren sun bleached stone
landscape eyes of cowboys.


I write now from a hotel above the center of Texas.
I see Walmart’s distribution center, bigger than anything.
The xenon flood lamps at its bays give such beams as to seem levers
to pry the thing a foot or so above itself.
I know something about race and something about sex and I obey
the market imperative
to keep things moving.
But it’s such a beautiful giant, you can bother with the critique.

All men, I think, have a favorite war.
Mine is the incessant flinging of the Red Army at Berlin —
ten thousand defending Soviets dead every day.

I’d been trying to give my sex to men and women since I was a kid.
At first, when she wanted me, I could hardly say anything that wasn’t,
“Look at you, wanting me.”

— Farid Matuk, from This Isa Nice Neighborhood, Letter Machine Editions, 2010.

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[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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wobble a bit

Arrived late last night in Portland for the annual chaos of AWP. Happy to be here, among the anxious throngs. Grateful for the time I had to read, think, imagine a little. One of the highlights of my reading, this interview with Carl Phillips.

From “The Art of Poetry, No. 103, Carl Phillips,” The Paris Review:

On narrative context:

I tell people, especially if I’m giving a reading, it’s okay to let the words wash over them, the way one experiences abstract art. I’m not trained in visual art. I often see things in a museum and don’t know what to make of them, but I still have an experience, a response to what I can see. Likewise, I don’t think poems have to have easy translation. I believe strongly in emotional and psychological narratives. I think of many of my poems as emotional gestures. Context isn’t always essential — or maybe it’s that I resist context as an absolute. I like what happens when context begins to wobble a bit.

On closure:

Many poems are the psychological, emotional by-products not of a single experience but of an amalgamation of experiences. At the end of the day, I come back to something Ellen Bryant Voigt once told me, that poetry is not the transcription of experience but the transformation of it. 

I want readers to feel at the end of a poem as if something has been consolidated, if only briefly. But then to realize, Oh, and… To hover there. I think that kind of closure is more faithful to the idea of an ongoing quest. 

On unconventionality:

I’ve always thought that’s what poetry was for, a space for unconventionality, risk, disruption. I really resist what seems a human impulse toward what everyone has agreed on as normal. I don’t understand that in life, and I truly don’t get it in poetry. 

On poetry as a radical thing:

I think it is. And a dangerous, because almost holy, thing, and therefore not to be dealt with lightly. Poetry’s not a box for storing unexamined experience, but a space instead — a field, really — within which to examine experience and to find that the more we examine it the more we’re surprised or disturbed by what we see, things that don’t go away. I think that’s the resonant part. 

On unraveling:

My newest poems are very invested in storytelling as a kind of unraveling, poems that proceed by and often end in loose ends, rather than anything even vaguely like resolution. Unraveling seems maybe more true to how our lives are. We like to think they’re compartmentalized and neat, but it seems to me that life’s actually about a lot of spillage that we’re trying to hide from ourselves and from other people. 


It’s hard to read. Hard to stay focused. I’m thinking about utility. I’m tired, moving slowly, but want everything to go faster. 

One milestone to the next. I drove back from Northampton in time to teach my morning class and felt like a hero. After, walking down Angell Street to my car, I deflated. 

The book I hadn’t planned on writing is getting in my way. Perhaps it is not useful to think of it this way. But here we are, nearly spring. There are moments in it I love, but what is it, as a whole? 

Anyway, present company: two episodes of David Naimon’s excellent “Between the Covers:” R.O. Kwon and Tommy Pico. An interview with Anne Carson in the Paris Review. Don Mee Choi’s translation of Kim Hyesoon’s Autobiography of Death. Finished the review of Sally Wen Mao’s Oculus

Next week, there is much to do. An open heart brings many gifts but there are costs to porousness. I let a lot in. 

Meanwhile, papers piling up. Meanwhile, rain today. 

if you have to be sure

I drove to Maine this week to spend an afternoon and evening as a visiting writer — spoke informally with classes, dinner with some faculty and students, a public reading, drinks. Not an entirely unfamiliar experience, but gradually, I’m acclimating to a different way of being — from the 10-minute reading in a line-up of three or four to a more sustained attention, expanded expectations. To have this larger “platform” and its attendant expectations requires, I am starting to realize, a different kind of preparation — not only of the material, but a kind of mental and emotional preparation. More simply, as my son would put it, “leveling up.”

After the book came out, I was of course asked to speak about it. When a book comes out, one is supposed to want attention for it. Interview requests, the speaking invitations, reviews — it seems obvious, but in some ways I did not feel prepared for it. I very much wanted attention, but it was also true that I very much wanted to hide and never have to speak publicly about it, or anything, ever.  Anyone who is close to me, who has had to live with or near me this past year, knows how much I simultaneously hate and love this book. Each time I read from it, I encounter things I would change — words, phrases. Delete whole sections. And yet this book — this messy, flawed, human book — has brought me so many gifts, how can I feel anything but gratitude and love? 

I had a writer visit my class recently, someone who has likely been asked to speak about her book hundreds, if not thousands of times. What struck me is how unhesitatingly she spoke of it — walking us through a close reading of a short passage, diagramming its structure on the whiteboard. As a listener, I felt a kind of relief. Her expertise, her certainty about her own work was reassuring. 

I feel vulnerable in more ways than I anticipated. Not only that the book itself is explicitly about my life, but that the aspects of the personal are generally what people want to know more about. Did I ever find any more information about my birth family, do I feel a sense of resolution having written the book, and even, someone asked me after a reading once, Do I forgive my mother? I don’t know how to answer these questions. I find myself bristling slightly when I am referred to — as I have been on occasion — as a “memoirist.” I am no expert on adoption, or on memoir, or even on my own life. I didn’t set out to write about my own life in this way, and yet, now that I have — now that I have entered the public conversation with this book — what responsibility do I have to speak with certainty, with authority? How different the role of the writer is from the role of the Writer? Perhaps I have not appreciated this distinction well enough. Not only in what it might require — the public presentation of the private role — but also the ways in which I need to prepare myself for the swirl of emotions that flood me after such a public display. 

Despite the warmth and generosity of the faculty and students, despite the conviviality over dinner and drinks, despite the kind and effusive remarks of the students, I drove back home yesterday feeling deflated. I re-played every answer I gave in class, every line I read aloud that felt flat. Imagined audience members on their way home, shaking their heads in disappointment and shock at how bad the whole thing was. Was I the worst Visiting Writer in the history of the college? Quite possibly so. 

This doesn’t seem a very helpful way to proceed in one’s life as a writer. (I am always charmed when someone asks, “Do you ever feel doubt about your work? How do you deal with doubt?”)

I arrived home in the afternoon, tired, depleted, a little sad. I read the news of W.S. Merwin’s passing and among the many poems and quotes and tributes posted, someone had excerpted these lines from “Berryman:”

I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can't

you can't you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don't write