Δ Back to Top
The Untrustworthy Speaker

Don’t listen to me; my heart’s been broken.
I don’t see anything objectively.

I know myself; I’ve learned to hear like a psychiatrist.
When I speak passionately,
that’s when I’m least to be trusted.

It’s very sad, really: all my life, I’ve been praised
for my intelligence, my powers of language, of insight.
In the end, they’re wasted—

I never see myself,
standing on the front steps, holding my sister’s hand.
That’s why I can’t account
for the bruises on her arm, where the sleeve ends.

In my own mind, I’m invisible: that’s why I’m dangerous.
People like me, who seem selfless,
we’re the cripples, the liars;
we’re the ones who should be factored out
in the interest of truth.

When I’m quiet, that’s when the truth emerges.
A clear sky, the clouds like white fibers.
Underneath, a little gray house, the azaleas
red and bright pink.

If you want the truth, you have to close yourself
to the older daughter, block her out:
when a living thing is hurt like that,
in its deepest workings,
all function is altered.

That’s why I’m not to be trusted.
Because a wound to the heart
is also a wound to the mind.

Louise Glück

Antiope Bound, Unbound

"Antiope was long held prisoner, but one day
her chains fell off of their own accord.”
—New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology


Handprints on my skin. I’ve forgotten how to pray.
Count the feathers of a bird, count the ways
you know to cry. The men they say are gods
are old drunk fools.

Mother appears to me in a scrim of yellow cotton.
I see she has the body of a goddess,
curved and wide, as father stands back, admiring her.
I am naked, she says. There is nothing
they can take from me now.

I wake again bound,
knees and elbows the tipped hinge of hips;
what looks like collapse is a tightening coil,
muscle on bone angled like wood for fire.

But in a wind of dust and camphor
a voice blows through me.
Torn words, then words of bright green flame,
sun’s copper burning and these chains:
a memory of sons, my body broken, a yellow dress.
I empty my silence
even of rage.

They say I escaped
as if by miracle, but I will tell you the miracle:
I cut my throat open.
I set myself free.

Donna Frazier

What It’s Called

Skocjan, Slovenia

It’s called the Shepherd of the Snakes, this black
butterfly with white spots. It’s called Heart in a Sling,
this small, heavy flower reaching down towards the earth.

I learned this the other day from a man whose name dissolved
into this limestone earth. Learned, later, that I have been
living directly over the fault line of Mala Dolina,
the little sinkhole, directly over the Reka river that appears
and disappears like a snake in the grass. Eventually,
everything we see commits a kind of suicide. Eventually,

every star becomes a heap of cinders floating aimlessly.
It’s nearly 6 PM and I can hear the horses calling from
somewhere beyond the rock wall. You can smell the rain
in the air before it starts to rain, but there’s nothing about
the soul’s weather we can know until later. It’s called
the soul’s scar tissue, this distance from the dead.

It’s called the borja, the wind that tears across
the stone roofs of this village at a hundred miles an hour.
Beneath me, a people whose names have been lost
for thousands of years took refuge by climbing into
the caves hidden in these cliffs. The floors there are
made of fallen roofs and hopes, broken histories.

It means we are always walking above ourselves down there.
It means we are walking above time. Above me now
Jupiter and Venus echo each other from two corners of
the sky. Beneath them the village graveyard holds the man
who mapped the caves. The dead keep dying within us.
It’s like a drowned man’s watch that still keeps time.

The early bats are tying the air, the heart, into knots. They
fly on the wings of grief. The late butterfly follows them
over the edge of the cliff where the earth becomes the air
we turn into. It’s called mirror vision when we see what isn’t
here. The kind of faith that fails at unexpected moments
the way a climber reaches for a hold that will never

in his life, be there. It’s called despair
when we open the door of a heart that no longer exists.

Jim Simmerman, 1954-2006

Richard Jackson

Shipwreck

i.

Arrival is another
optical illusion of departure—

to reach the bottom,
the body is called upon
to leave first: the surface, a self,

the neck of a broken bottle
that hangs by a string.

Prior to drowning,
people shout in unison
with their faith—little fetish objects
around their throat—

but do not stop
the ship from sinking.

ii.

Even water has a pulse.

It slows down in the absence
of living, and competes
with movements that have
to do with survival.

The body swells,
like a blister. Its mouth—drunk
and half-open—as if
forestalled from calling a name.

iii.

Arms transmute to hair,
the hair to clothes,
the clothes to skin—which
in their turn
outlive the flesh.

Once the wristwatch
is filled with water, it begins
to let go of time.

iv.

For those who exist
underwater, salt finds its way
into the body and loses
its identity as taste.

Appetite covers
great distances: the attraction
of the dead lies on what
they fill eventually.

When the migratory fish
leave, they are carrying away
millimetres of face
in their bellies.

The eyes—full of drink
and blindness—jut out as if in pain
or a question mark
after How did it come to this.

In the end, not even
the swollen tongue can fit itself
back into the scheme
of a mouth.

To be part of the ocean
is an experience in being.

v.

Once physical things
have lost their function, they acquire
a sorrow that belongs
only to others.

How soft, unborn
the fingernails look now.

And they say
the last drink becomes a kind
of love that remains
independent of the body.

Arlene Ang

Inner Flamingo

At night my body discovers
her secret geometries—
inner-flamingo knee hitch,
inner-flamenco arm arch,
Hermes’ diagonal of flight
across the mattress.

The sleeping body is selfish.
The sleeping body cannot lie.

Once there was the man
from whom I always woke
huddled at the bed’s edge.
Then there was a man who
laid his lust as a doorknocker
at the small of my back.

The first time I laid down
with you—sweat-stuck,

each onioned in the skin
of the other—I assumed
the unconscious hours
would peel us free. Yet
when sun cracked its eye
over the horizon, we were as

we’d been. And the pink of me
cocked her head, listening.

Sandra Beasley

Tinder in a Time of Burning

I’m eight at the beginning, and it’s always the beginning:
          somewhere, silos daisy-ringed

with guards. One night, my father comes home with the father
          from the next farm down the road,

and they sit. Dark cups and the other man’s smoke. Shoulders
          like the haunches of huge, white bulls.

My mother’s fears: government men and babies gone breech;
          the pigs my father lets roam in the woods,

so in official records there are no pigs; the joy in his voice as he
          calls them home is a flare gun, is a circus

cannon. The men fear someday knowing the sound of women
          dying. They hunch across our lazy susan, voices

a hum of tones I’d hear behind my parent’s bedroom door: a low,
          old language, and the next day, changed.

My mother with her face a blaze of morning. My father, quiet:
          the world. The world, devoured.

Aubrey Ryan

from Afterword

a great ease
like death, poetry, both—

that place where the two make between them
a dove’s tail, how each necessarily means
both the occasion for remember and

the time finally for it, I’ve lived that life, each
singing. It’s a dream, as I mentioned,
therefore from the dream—waking:

Carl Phillips

I Could Not Tell

I could not tell I had jumped off that bus,
that bus in motion, with my child in my arms,
because I did not know it. I believed my own story:
I had fallen, or the bus had started up
when I had one foot in the air.

I would not remember the tightening of my jaw,
the irk that I’d missed my stop, the step out
into the air, the clear child
gazing about her in the air as I plunged
to one knee on the street, scraped it, twisted it,
the bus skidding to a stop, the driver
jumping out, my daughter laughing
Do it again.

I have never done it
again, I have been very careful.
I have kept an eye on that nice young mother
who lightly leapt
off the moving vehicle
onto the stopped street, her life
in her hands, her life’s life in her hands.

Sharon Olds

Had I Been the Virgin Mary I Would Have Said No

A difficult problem in anatomy: how to attach wings
to the shoulder blades of humans and make them look workable

either the wings or the humans; carrying a tin trumpet
and accompanied by a minstrel band that used to tour the South

in the days before the germ theory had been discovered
Gabriel shuffles in to make this one-time limited offer

in an early illumination Mary is assumed into heaven
by the agency of a sky-blue openwork elevator cage

it does take careful thought; what is it about gods
that insists on making more gods out of human beings

crucifying them as one pits a peach, to release the seed?
what is it about the human imagination that insists on being used

by anybody in a beat-up 1936 Chevy with bruised fenders
selling Old Doctor Barmecide’s indigestion powders

or demands the harsh ruffle of painfully-extended wings
pulling the back muscles out of true, demands

grace, as if without the mysterious secret ingredient
Mary was not yet Mary, only an opportunity?

William Dickey

Dear Lacuna, Dear Lard

I’m here, one fat cherry
              blossom blooming like a clod,

one sad groat glazing, a needle puling thread,
              so what, so sue me. These days what else to do but leer

at any boy with just the right hairline. Hey! I say,
              That’s one tasty piece of nature. Tart Darkling,

if I could I’d gin, I’d bargain, I’d take a little troll
              this moolit night, let you radish me awhile,

let you gag and confound me. How much I’ve struggled
              with despicing you, always; your false poppets, relentless

distances. Yet plea-bargaining and lack of conversation
              continue to make me

your faithful indefile. I’m lonely. I’ve turned
              all rage to rag, all pratfalls fast to fatfalls for you,

My Farmer in the Dwell. So struggle, strife,
              so strew me, to bell with these clucking mediocrities,

these anxieties over such beings thirty, still smitten
              with this heaven never meant for, never heard from.

You’ve said we’re each pockmarked like a golf course
              with what can’t be said of us, bred in us,

isn’t our tasty piece of nature. But I tell you
              I’ve stars, I’ve true blue depths, have learned to use

the loo, the crew, the whole slough of pill-popping
              devices without you, your intelligent and pitiless graze.

Everyone knows love is just a euphemism
              for you’ve failed me anyway. So screw me.

Bartering Yam, regardless of want I’m nothing
              without scope, hope, nothing

without your possibility. So let’s laugh
              like the thieves we are together, the sieves:

you, my janus gate, my Sigmund Fraud,
              my crawling, crack-crazed street sprawled out,

revisible, spell-bound.
              Hello, joy. I’m thirsty. I’m Pasty Rectum.

In your absence I’ve learned to fill myself
              with starts. Here’s my paters. Here’s my blue.

I just wanted to write again and say
              how much I’ve failed you.

Paisley Rekdal