‘Halo’ by Ailbhe Darcy

It was late last night the dog was speaking of me,
and the gulls speaking of me, out over the field.
You were drawing water from the tap in the kitchen
and a moth was speaking of me, beating for light.

I was raising delft from the sink to the aumbry,
while they spoke of you in loops, over the waves.
I reached for a switch; sunlight coalesced
about your reflection, helmet of bright coils.

Outdoors was a blankness peopled with black angles;
waiting for the water you caught your own glance.
My eyebrows bustled, you submersed in my dressed;
then you were speaking of me, just a word, in response.

All the dogs in America have sisters of their own,
all the birds have sisters, out on the highway.
Moths have moths for sisters, beating out for light,
and I am speaking of you here, to everyone I meet.

Source: Darcy, Ailbhe. Imaginary Menagerie. Tarset, Northumberland: Bloodaxe Books, 2011, p. 31.

‘American Sonnet for My Past and Future Assassin’ by Terrance Hayes

I only intend to send word to my future
Self perpetuation is a war against Time
Travel is essentially the aim of any religion
Is blindness the color one sees under water
Breath can be overshadowed in darkness
The benefits of blackness can seem radical
Black people in America are rarely compulsive
Is forbidden the only word God doesn’t know
You have to heal yourself to truly be heroic
You have to think once a day of killing your self
Awareness requires a touch of blindness & self
Importance is the only word God knows
To be free is to live because only the dead are slaves


Source: Hayes, Terrance. American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin, 2018, p. 79

‘Forgive Her’ by Forough Farrokhzad

Forough Farrokhzad

Forgive her.
Sometimes she forgets
she is painfully the same
as stagnant water,
hollow ditches,
foolishly imagines
she has the right to exist.

Forgive
a portrait’s listless rage,
whose longing for movement
melts in her paper eyes.

Forgive
this woman whose casket is washed over
by a flowing red moon,
her body’s thousand-year sleep
perturbed by night’s stormy scent.

Forgive
this woman who’s crumbling inside,
but whose eyelids tingle still with dreams of light,
her useless hair quivering hopelessly,
infiltrated by love’s breath.

People of the land of plain joys,
you who have opened your windows to the rain,
forgive her,
forgive because your lives’ fertile roots
burrow into her exiled soil and pound
with envy’s rod her naive heart,
until it swells.

Source: Farrokhzad, Forugh, Sholeh Wolpé, and Alicia Ostriker. Sin: Selected Poems of Forugh Farrokhzad. , 2007, pp. 39-40. Print.*

*With minor edits by me, with insincere apologies to the imagined reader.

‘When Adults Talk’ by Mary Ruefle

Broken Lance, Joseph M. Gerace, 2019

I am not even vaguely interested,
though for a quarter I could be.

I was not allowed to move but when my leg went dead
I cheered it on in the first place.

When they whisper they ought to wear a lead vest.
Their lips look like personified oysters.

When they shout it is usually addressed
to the dead body who owned it before us.

We can safely assume one of them is born
every minute of the day.

When my rabbit ran away it was a great relief.
I could not say so—who would understand?—

So I cried for a week.

Source: Ruefle, Mary. “When Adults Talk.” Selected Poems. Seattle: Wave Books, 2011. Print.

‘God Must Be an Indian’ by Billy-Ray Belcourt

Billy-Ray Belcourt (he/him) is a writer and academic from the Driftpile Cree Nation. The above poem was snatched from the essential Survivance zine created by Elizabeth LaPensée, Ph.D., and R.I.S.E. (Radical Indigenous Survivance and Empowerment).

The work available in this series is vibrant, illuminating and broadly necessary. Please support their projects.

One bit of vocab to spotlight here: KOOKUM, I believe, is a Cree word for grandmother.

‘Shhh’ by Eileen Myles

Shhh

I don’t think
I can afford the time to not sit right down &
write a poem about the heavy lidded
white rose I hold in my hand
I think of snow
a winter night in Boston, drunken waitress
stumble on a bus that careens through
Somerville the end of the line
where I was born, an old man
shaking me. He could’ve been my dad.
You need a ride? Wait, he said.
This flower is so heavy in my hand.
He drove me home in his old blue
Dodge, a thermos next to me,
cigarette packs on the dash
so quiet like Boston is quiet
Boston in the snow. It’s New York
plates are clattering on St. Mark’s
Place. Should I call you?
Can I go home now
& work with this undelivered
message in my fingertips
It’s summer
I love you.
I’m surrounded by snow.

from Eileen Myles’s “I Must Be Living Twice”

‘Noir, NJ’ by Paul Muldoon

muldoon

When I wake up in a strange bed
Beside a girl called Pam
I try to play the whole thing down
And give my name as Sam
It’s clear I’m way out of my depth
It’s clear that she’s dropped a dime
It’s clear that even I suspect
I’m guilty of some crime
I know those goons by the streetlamp
Are champing at the bit
I last saw them on board the train
Before we took a hit
And jumped the observation car
Only to lose our way
In a nightmarish railroad yard
Somewhere near Noir, NJ

When I squint through the slatted blinds
Pam orders juice and eggs
She’ll let a man do the legwork
While she works on her legs
It’s clear her husband was a wimp
It’s clear he had no spine
It’s clear she lit that cigarette
To give the goons a sign
I know that it’s a rule of thumb
A gumshoe’s fingered me
When ladies who’re high maintenance
Meet lighting that’s low key
They’re just so many femme fatales
Who have been led astray
And now lure plainclothesmen et al
Back there to Noir, NJ

When a sergeant with a scattergun
Meets a shamus
Halfway up the stairs
Somewhere between Paterson
And Paramus
They redefine the parameters
And bid us welcome, hey, hey, hey,
Welcome to Noir, NJ

When I flash forward through the murk
Of who did what to whom
I’m pretty sure I don’t deserve
To die here in this room
It’s clear I’ve been double-crossed
It’s clear that I’ve been framed
It’s clear that Pam’s husband was half deaf
From how they shout his name
I know I’ll be reduced to pulp
She’ll gulp with her orange juice
If I don’t reassert myself
She’ll kick in my caboose
It’s not too late to be hard-boiled
Like the eggs on Pam’s tray
Through even her pistol would recoil
At what happened in Noir, NJ

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Source: Muldoon, Paul. Joyce Carol Oates, Editor. New Jersey Noir. Consortium Book Sales & Dist, 2011. Print. pp. 217-218.

“Ballad of the Savage Tiger” by Li He

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No one attacks it with a long lance,
No one plies a strong cross-bow.
Suckling its grandsons, rearing its cubs,
It trains them into savagery.
Its reared head becomes a wall
Its waving tail becomes a banner.
Even Huang from the Eastern Sea,¹
Dreaded to see it after dark,
A righteous tiger, met on the road,²
Was quite enough to upset Niu Ai.
What good is it for that short sword
To hang on the wall, growling like thunder?
When from the foot of Tai mountain
Comes the sound of a woman weeping,
Government regulations forbid
Any official to dare to listen.³

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Notes from The Collected Poems of Li He:

A satire on oppressive government, of which the tiger was the symbol. Caught between the Central Government and the warlords, the people are harassed as though by tigers.

  1. Huang, of Dong-hai, had magical powers which enabled him to control snakes and tigers. Unfortunately for him, he lost these powers through drinking to excess and was eventually killed by a tiger.
  2. The zhou-yu was a white tiger with black markings which appeared only when a state was perfectly governed. It would not tread on grain nor eat living things. Niu Ai was a duke turned were-tiger, who ate his own elder brother. He is pointing out that some tigers are worse than others.
  3. Confucius found a woman weeping at the foot of Mount Tai. Though her whole family had been killed by tigers she refused to leave the district, because there was no oppressive government there. This caused Confucius to remark that an oppressive government was more savage than any tiger.

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More about Li He from The New York Review of Books:

Li He is the bad-boy poet of the late Tang dynasty. He began writing at the age of seven and died at twenty-six from alcoholism or, according to a later commentator, “sexual dissipation,” or both. An obscure and unsuccessful relative of the imperial family, he would set out at dawn on horseback, pause, write a poem, and toss the paper away. A servant boy followed him to collect these scraps in a tapestry bag.

Long considered far too extravagant and weird for Chinese taste, Li He was virtually excluded from the poetic canon until the mid-twentieth century. Today, as the translator and scholar Anne M. Birrell, writes, “Of all the Tang poets, even of all Chinese poets, he best speaks for our disconcerting times.” Modern critics have compared him to Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Keats, and Trakl.

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Source: Li He, Ballad of the Savage Tiger. “The Collected Poems of Li He.” Translated by J.D. Frodsham, New York Review Books, 2016.

 

‘Afro’ by Morgan Parker

from There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker

“Aubade Sung at Laetare a Year Ago” by Guillaume Apollinaire

aubade1

It’s spring come out Esther you should
Take a walk in the pretty woods
The hens are clucking in the yard
Dawn’s pink folds are shooting skyward
And love is coming to steal your heart

Mars and Venus have come back anew
They give each other mad kisses
An innocent interlude
While beneath the fluttering roses
Lovely pink gods are dancing nude

So come my tenderness is queen
Of this flowering that appears
Nature is beautiful and touching
Pan is whistling in the trees
The wet frogs are singing

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Source: Apollinaire, Guillaume. “Aubade Sung at Laetare a Year Ago.” Zone: Selected Poems. Trans. Ron Padgett. NYRB Poets, 2015. 25. Print.