by Matthew Dickman
I’m in the world again
without my mother or father
who seem more and more
like Russian dolls, as if I could
unscrew my mother’s head
and then the slightly smaller
and then my brothers
and sisters and me and finally
the family unassembled
as we are meant to be, as in the first
days before the planet earth,
when God was still gas,
wasn’t even a wave yet, a piece
of coral, an eye hiding
in the head of a fish
that would, in one million years,
be able to see on its own.
I’m walking in the snow
because there’s snow on the ground.
I’m thinking about snow
and brains in brainpans.
I’m thinking about you and your
hands, your voice, and how it’s exactly
the voice of everything warm.
I’m loving you as I used to
love older boys in my neighborhood,
the shade of them
and the violence of them,
the nunchucks and the silvery
throwing stars of the mouth
and above all the quiet of their
bodies, how they could appear,
a tremble of dark light
and pollen—that kind of quiet.
If only we could bring them all
back to life. I have this thing I keep
doing with Band-Aids
and the third smallest knife I own.
I know you know how it feels
to be a blister, all that blood
and tissue and poison turning into
a kind of ultimate, dominant
pressure, as if a diamond were being
formed. That’s what my body
has been getting at,
working for—why it’s been
renting out its extra rooms,
saving up, going forward,
marking its calendar like an Advent
made out of the broken glass
of a cockpit, the long strings of silk
that make up your arms,
which are also made of water.
See how it’s O.K., I can’t even die right
without warning you. I know—
I’m in Montpelier, the great
high seat of Vermont, the trees
are all green and the embarrassed
ghosts of mosquitoes,
dressed in glittering nail polish,
are coming to take me all the way home.
By Vijay Seshadri
How strange would it be if you met yourself on the street?
How strange if you liked yourself,
took yourself in your arms, married your own self,
propagated by techniques known only to you,
and then populated the world? Replicas of you are everywhere.
Some are Arabs. Some are Jews. Some live in yurts. It is
an abomination, but better that your
sweet and scrupulously neat self
emerges at many points on the earth to watch the horned moon rise
than all those dolts out there,
turning into pillars of salt wherever we look.
If we have to have people, let them be you,
spritzing your geraniums, driving yourself to the haberdashery,
killing your supper with a blowgun.
Yes, only in the forest do you feel at peace,
up in the branches and down in the terrific gorges,
but you’ve seen through everything else.
You’ve fled in terror across the frozen lake,
you’ve found yourself in the sand, the palace,
the prison, the dockside stews;
and long ago, on this same planet, you came home
to an empty house, poured a Scotch-and-soda,
and sat in a recliner in the unlit rumpus room,
puzzled at what became of you.
This is you at the doorway, unobserved,
while your aunts and uncles keen over the body.
This is your first river, your first planetarium, your first Popsicle.
The cold and brilliant day in six-color prints—
but the people on the screen are black and white.
Your friend’s mother is saying,
Hush, children! Don’t you understand history is being made?
You do, and you still do. Made and made again.
- Vijay Seshadri
The same snowflake
kept falling out of the gray sky
falling and falling
and picking itself up off the ground,
to fall again,
but now more surreptitiously,
as night strolled over
to see what’s up.
I judged them very carefully, as though
I’d been given the charge to determine
which are good or bad, and they were all good,
even the slightly overripe ones with bruises
had a bitter ferment that only brightened
the scent. And the too young ones, firm
and slightly sour, not yet softened by the sun.
And the ripe ones, which felt like biting into
my own flesh, slightly carnivorous.
They had been elegant in the tree, tiny coquettes
blushing more and more until I picked them,
then they were minimalist and matte-colored
in wooden bowls, so barely furred one couldn’t
help but clothe them, enclose them with your hand,
caress each one thoroughly before taking a bite,
exploring the handsome freckles left
from some minor blight.
Now I stand under the tree and
pluck them one after the other.
Each one tastes different, like a mind having
erratic thoughts. Going into the trance
halfway between eating and thinking,
the thought of an apricot, the apricot of a thought,
whose goodness occurs over time, so that
some had been better earlier, others soon
would become correct, I mean ripe.
- Jennifer Grotz
'Happy Ideas' by Mary Szybist
I had the happy idea to suspend some blue globes in the air
and watch them pop.
I had the happy idea to put my little copper horse on the shelf so we could stare at each other all evening.
I had the happy idea to create a void in myself.
Then to call it natural.
Then to call it supernatural.
I had the happy idea to wrap a blue scarf around my head and spin.
I had the happy idea that somewhere a child was being born who was nothing like Helen or Jesus except in the sense of changing everything.
I had the happy idea that someday I would find both pleasure and punishment, that I would know them and feel them,
and that, until I did, it would be almost as good to pretend.
I had the happy idea to string blue lights from a tree and watch them glow.
I had the happy idea to call myself happy.
I had the happy idea that the dog digging a hole in the yard in the twilight had his nose deep in mold-life.
I had the happy idea that what I do not understand is more real than what I do
and then the happier idea to buckle myself into two blue velvet shoes.
I had the happy idea to polish the reflecting glass and say
hello to my own blue soul. Hello, blue soul. Hello.
It was my happiest idea.
Let’s get fired up! said the dad. His daughters liked
their beds. What do I have to do to get you
motivated dad asked. The thing about
his daughters was they hadn’t left
their beds for some while. Are any of you girls
up there yelled dad. Are any of you girls
still alive? It was a question he should have asked
a bit earlier. The hardest questions sometimes
to say aloud are important. He warned I will give you
to the count of ten. There were at least ten
daughters though more than ten beds the problem
was this the dad realized. Was he let them
have abundance. He would fix that right up
starting now. I will actually only give you
to the count of five he yelled nothing moved
upstairs. Do I have to burn down the house
he called out do I have to make
marshmallows of the pretty white
beds you love more than dear dad?
Throat dry he went and drank
water sure not to leave any left over
in the glass because otherwise
his daughters might put out against his wishes
the fire he threatened to start. He wasn’t sure
when he’d last seen a daughter. Their bodies
and heads were covered fully with sheets
in some but not all of the beds. Which beds
and which rooms and which daughter’s heads
were which the dad wondered. None of them
would get up or look different than any other
one when their bodies and faces were covered
up upstairs in beds. Let’s get fired up!
the dad yelled. He found himself yelling still.
- Alissa Nutting
More Pleasant Adventures
The first year was like icing.
Then the cake started to show through.
Which was fine, too, except you forget the direction you’re taking.
Suddenly you are interested in some new thing
And can’t tell how you got here. Then there is confusion
Even out of happiness, like a smoke—
The words get heavy, some topple over, you break others.
And outlines disappear once again.
Heck, it’s anybody’s story,
A sentimental journey—“gonna take a sentimental journey,”
And we do, but you wake up under the table of a dream:
You are that dream, and it is the seventh layer of you.
We haven’t moved an inch, and everything has changed.
We are somewhere near a tennis court at night.
We get lost in life, but life knows where we are.
We can always be found with our associates.
Haven’t you always wanted to curl up like a dog and go to sleep like a dog?
In the rash of partings and dyings (the new twist),
There’s also room for breaking out of living.
Whatever happens will be quite ingenious.
No acre but will resume being disputed now,
And paintings are one thing we never seem to run out of.
- John Ashbery
You can hear him telling the dog that one broken heart
deserves a heart that has been differently broken.
I had that dream in New York City. Times Square
looks like America throwing up on itself.
I want to hold its hair back.
XIII | V: 9:23 PM
the first time I fell in love
he thought my poetry was amazing
I thought his drug problem
was something I could understand
there was something safe
to be found in people who weren’t.
the first time I had sex
he thought I was an escape, he said
he said too much
I thought about it all
there was something complex
to be loved in people who were lost.
I think there’s much to be said
about what my thoughts say
and what his words didn’t
and how what is said sometimes
involves no thinking at all
- Betty Wang
That Now Are Wild and Do Not Remember
Where did you go to, when you went away?
It is as if you step by step were going
Someplace elsewhere into some other range
Of speaking, that I had no gift for speaking,
Knowing nothing of the language of that place
To which you went with naked foot at night
Into the wilderness there elsewhere in the bed,
Elsewhere somewhere in the house beyond my seeking.
I have been so dislanguaged by what happened
I cannot speak the words that somewhere you
Maybe were speaking to others where you went.
Maybe they talk together where they are
Restlessly wandering, along the shore,
Waiting for a way to cross the river.
At the end of August, when all
The letters of the alphabet are waiting,
You drop a teabag in a cup.
The same few letters making many different words,
The same words meaning different things.
Often you’ve rearranged them on the surface of the fridge.
Without the surface
They’re repulsed by one another.
Here are the letters.
The tea is in your cup.
At the end of August, the mind
Is neither the pokeweed piercing the grass
Nor the grass itself.
As Tony Cook says in The Biology of Terrestrial Mollusks
The right thing to do is nothing, the place
A place of concealment,
And the time as often as possible.
by James Longenbach, 2012
At North Farm
Somewhere someone is traveling furiously toward you,
At incredible speed, traveling day and night,
Through blizzards and desert heat, across torrents, through narrow passes.
But will he know where to find you,
Recognize you when he sees you,
Give you the thing he has for you?
Hardly anything grows here,
Yet the granaries are bursting with meal,
The sacks of meal piled to the rafters.
The streams run with sweetness, fattening fish;
Birds darken the sky. Is it enough
That the dish of milk is set out at night,
That we think of him sometimes,
Sometimes and always, with mixed feelings?
by John Ashbery, 1984
wrap their babies in the American flag,
feed them mashed hotdogs and apple pie,
name them Bill and Daisy,
buy them blonde dolls that blink blue
eyes or a football and tiny cleats
before the baby can even walk,
speak to them in thick English,
hallo, babee, hallo,
whisper in Spanish or Polish
when the babies sleep, whisper
in a dark parent bed, that dark
parent fear, “Will they like
our boy, our girl, our fine American
boy, our fine American girl?”
— Pat Mora