Translated from the Chinese by Ming Di and Jennifer Stern
You have a strange pet—
one eye is a cat’s, the other a sheep’s.
Yet, it won’t socialize with felines,
will attack any flock of sheep.
On moonlit nights,
it wanders on roofs.
When you’re alone,
it will lie in your lap,
slowly studying you until—
on its face—a challenge.
Source: Liu, Xia, Di Ming, Jennifer Kronovet, Herta Müller, and Yiwu Liao. Empty Chairs: Selected Poems. 2015.
Begin reading about Liu Xia here and then Google her name and pay attention to learn more.
I encourage readers to purchase the book here, and listen to a conversation between poet Rachel Zucker and translator Jennifer Kronovet on a recent episode of the Commonplace Podcast. You can financially support (as I do) Commonplace Podcast—a brilliant, important project exploring the work of influential working artists—on Patreon.
Pat your foot
the corner. Nat Turner, dying wood
of the church. Our lot
is vacant. Bring the twisted myth
of speech. The boards brown and falling
away. The metal bannisters cheap
and rattly. Clean new Sundays. We thought
it possible to enter
the way of the strongest.
But it is rite that the world's ills
erupt as our own. Right that we take
our own specific look into the shapely
blood of the heart.
Looking thru trees
the wicker statues blowing softly against
Looking thru dusk
ness. A clearing of stars
and half-soft mud.
The possibilities of music. First
that it does exist. And that we do,
in that scripture of rhythms. The earth,
I mean soil, as melody. The fit you need,
the throes. To pick it up and cut
away what does not singularly express.
The delay of language.
A strength to be handled by giants.
The possibilities of statement. I am saying, now,
what my father could not remember
to say. What my grandfather
Pay me off, savages.
Build me an equitable human assertion.
One that looks like a jungle, or one that looks like the cities
of the West. But I provide the stock. The beasts
The City's Rise!
(And what is history, then? An old deaf lady)
burned to death
in South Carolina.
Source: Baraka, Imamu A, and William J. Harris. The Leroi Jones/Amiri Baraka Reader. New York, NY: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1995. Print.
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
Source: Apollinaire, Guillaume. “Aubade Sung at Laetare a Year Ago.” Zone: Selected Poems. Trans. Ron Padgett. NYRB Poets, 2015. 25. Print.
For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours;
For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.
And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
but when we are silent
we are still afraid.
So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive.
Source: Lorde, Audre. The Black Unicorn: Poems. New York: W. W. Norton, 1995. Print.
“Fear of Death” by John Ashbery
What is it now with me
And is it as I have become?
Is there no state free from the boundry lines
Of before and after? The window is open today
And the air pours in with piano notes
In its skirts, as though to say, “Look, John,
I’ve brought these and these”—that is,
A few Beethovens, some, Brahmses,
A few choice Poulenc notes. . . . Yes,
It is being free again, the air, it has to keep coming back
Because that’s all it’s good for.
I want to stay with it out of fear
That keeps me from walking up certain steps,
Knocking at certain doors, fear of growing old
Alone, and of finding no one at the evening end
Of the path except another myself
Nodding a curt greeting: “Well, you’ve been awhile
But now we’re back together, which is what counts.”
Air in My path, you could shorten this,
But the breeze has dropped, and silence is the last word.
I am a furious
To mistake shit
is the privilege
of the overeducated.
Every man is a friend
to his own
I never speak
when I am not
I point at my head
is called poetry.
Every tibia loves its fibula.
is tired of repeating
that she is crazy.
Translated by Carla Billitteri
Source: FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Italian Poetry: An Anthology. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015. Print. P 493.
You have your skinny pants that you never wear
but that are the barometer. You have your fat pants
that you wear more than you need to. You have your
period pants that are dark and thick and forgiving
You have your period panties.
I have a new resolution not to wear my period
panties at non-period times. I have gotten into the
habit of wearing only my period panties and pretty
much never wearing my other panties, my nice
panties. My resolution is to wear nice panties every
day, even the days I don’t think l’m going to have sex,
even on the days when l’m going to ride my bike.
Once, in the locker room at the YWCA after tot
swim class, I saw another mom who was wearing
beautiful, chic mocha panties and a matching bra
even though she had just come from swim class and
had a kid. The panties and bra looked French, and so
did the mom. I swore right there and then to wear
my nice panties every day, even though my nicest
panties aren’t as nice as those panties were.
But then I got pregnant again and never felt like
wearing nice panties.
So that was three years ago. Exactly three years and
I am finally hoping to make good on my promise of
Thus far I have kept my nice panties promise for
about a week and a half. It’s been difficult. Almost
every day I reach for my period panties but I haven’t
relented. It does feel good to wear nice panties,
though it pains my heart to get on a bike or go to
sleep without sex when I am wearing them.
Even when the nice panties are not two-hundred-
dollar hand-washable silk tap pants, nice panties
are a conundrum.
If you enjoyed this poem, please support the poet and purchase Arielle Greenberg’s fascinating, honest, nuanced and insightful book “Locally Made Panties”.
I was sausage master of Minsk;
young girls brought parsley to my shop
and watched as I ground
coriander, garlic and calves’ hearts.
At harvest time they’d come with sheaves:
hags in babushkas, girls plump
as quail, wrapped in bright tunics,
switching the flanks of oxen.
Each to the other, beast and woman,
goggle-eyed at the market’s flow.
My art is that of my father:
even among stinking shepherds, bean-
brained as the flocks they tend, our
sausages are known. The old man
sits in back, ruined in his bones, a scold.
So it was my trade brought wealth.
My knuckles shone with lard, flecks
of summer savory clung to my palms.
My shop was pungent with spiced meat
and sweat: heat from my boiling pots,
my fretful labors with casings,
expertly stuffed. Fat women in shawls
muttered and swabbed their brows.
Kopeks made a racket on my tray.
But I would have none of marriage:
the eldest son, no boon,
even with the shop’s renown, was
I to my parents. Among mothers
with daughters, full-bottomed, shy,
I was a figure of scorn.
In that season when trade was a blur,
always, from the countryside, there was one,
half-formed, whose eyes, unlike
the haggling matrons’ squints, roamed
and sometimes found my own.
And of her I would inquire.
Before seed-time they always returned.
Tavern men speak freely of knives,
of this, of that. Call me a fool.
For in spring I would vanish
to the hills and in a week return,
drawn, remote, my hair mussed,
interlaced with fine, pubescent yarn.
Source: Kleinzahler, August. Live from the Hong Kong Nile Club: Poems : 1975-1990. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003. Print.
You are beautiful as a telephone, colors
of bone, rocket ship, and cocktail lounge—
Hmm, says the neon sign, starting
an unfinishable thought.
Where do we go from here?
I’m a balloon,
each minute you don’t call is a breath
you blow into me.
I want to be the crackers in your soup,
I want to be your brass compass. Oh, mister,
just thinking about you curls the ends of my hair.
The clock tisk-tisks.
Moon, you old spinster, don’t you mock me
with your pockmarks and your slow, slow travels.
Moon, what would you know, cold as cheese?
Behind a far-off door, a thought about me is being formed
out of nothing but light.
And when that phone does ring—
from “Love, An Index” by Rebecca Lindenberg
Though this body, I know,
is a thing of no substance,
must it fade, alas,
like a soundless fart?
Source: Sato, Hiroaki, and Burton Watson. From the Country of Eight Islands: An Anthology of Japanese Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1987. Print.