Wednesday, December 30, 2009

"Looking Glass Secret" by Richard Fein

Most creatures never learn the looking glass secret.
A songbird does a duet for hours and always thinks itself in good company,
without an inkling it’s singing solo.
But comes the day when baby finds no other baby behind the mirror.
Before, if he laughed that other baby laughed, and if he cried. . ..
So all babies laughed and all babies cried and he was all babies.
But came the day he peeked behind the mirror and found no other baby.
He danced and so did the mirrored baby but never out of step with him.
He spread finger and thumb across the mirror’s edge
and suddenly discovered there’s no room within for a baby playmate.
He cried and babbled words like mama and dada.
And many, many words later the child again looked deep into the mirror.
But by then he could mouth that unsettling word —


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"The key to the tower" by Laura Kasischke

There was never
There was never
A key to the tower

There was never a key to the tower, you fool

It was a dream
It was a dream
A mosquito's dream

A mosquito dreaming in a cage for a bird

It's October
It's October
The summer's over

Your passionate candle in a pumpkin's head
And the old woman's hand in this photograph
Appears to be nailed to the old man's hand

And the sky
And the sky
And the sky above you

Is a drunken loved one asleep in your bed

And the tower
And the tower
And the key to the tower

There was never a key to the tower, I said

And this insistence
This insistence
It will only bring you sorrow

Your ridiculous key, your laughable tower

But there was
There was
A tower there

I swear

And the key
And the key
I still have it here somewhere

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Monday, December 21, 2009

"Baked Ziti" by Jeffrey Rotter

a couple names their child Baked Ziti
then she is orphaned
this is one example of the joke against humanity
a man beside you on the train
has been diagnosed with a learning disorder
his doctor sends him home with a pamphlet
the man struggles between station stops
to decipher “Sexy Dial,” advice for the dyslexic
written in anagrams
this is another example
the sleet pays you compliments
but to receive them you must stand outside
with your stocking cap stuffed in your coatsleeve
until your hair is crusted with ice

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

"'Sadomasochism is Not for the Forgetful" by David Phillips

As cranks turned and straps tightened, Bill momentarily delighted. But then he was struck by a most terrible realisation: he had forgotten his safe word.

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

"O, Penelope!" by Lynne Knight

The nuns of Mount St. Mary's loved Penelope, whose skills
they urged us all to emulate: She fought off men. She used
her mind. Long after we'd read the prose version, slightly
sexed down (those nights with Calypso eclipsed),

Penelope was steadily invoked—wily, though not quite
as wily as Mr. Wiliness himself; patient, so that even Job
might take his text from her; discreet in her appetites,
which the nuns chose to ignore, never quizzing us on

the scar (since God forbid we should mention
the man's thigh) or the bed with its highly unusual post.
No, ours was the Penelope of Attic vases,
gowned, accepting gifts from suitors, or sitting

at her loom, elbow on knee, head on hand, thoughtful
Telemachus beside her as she figured out her next move
now that the maids had betrayed her. No more unravelling!
But she was shining among all women, the gods would intervene ...

Heretical, yes, but we mustn't blame the Greeks;
at least [finger wag] they believed in something.
And they liked a good story: Odysseus stringing the bow,
stripping off his rags to guide the fatal arrows

to the suitors until the great hall smoked with blood ...
Not that we were being asked to condone violence.
But anything to preserve virtue! [sigh] Anything!
No wonder so many of us headed straight

for the back seat of a car. Why wait any longer?
We wanted to test our pluck and ingenuity ...
and then, hand sliding down a bare thigh,
whisper, Oh, I'd know you anywhere ...

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Monday, May 18, 2009

"The Language Problem" by Philip Levine

Cuban Spanish is incomprehensible even to Cubans. "If you spit in his face he'll tell you it's raining," the cab driver said. In Cuban it means, "Your cigar is from Tampa." Single, desperate, almost forty, my ex-wife told the Cuban doctor she'd give a million dollars for a perfect pair of tits. "God hates a coward," he said & directed her to an orthopedic shoe store where everything smelled like iodine. A full-page ad on the back of Nueva Prensa Cubanaclearly read "Free rum 24 hours a day & more on weekends." ("Free rum" was in italics.) When I showed up that evening at the right address, Calle Obispo, 28, the little merchant I spoke to said, "Rum? This is not a distillery." They were flogging Venetian blue umbrellas for $4 American. Mine was made in Taiwan and when it rained refused to open. Before sunset the streets filled with music. In the great Plaza de la Revolución the dark came slowly, filled with the perfume of automobile exhaust and wisteria. I danced with a girl from Santiago de Cuba. Gabriela Mistral García was her name; she was taller than I & wore her black hair in a wiry tangle. She was a year from her doctorate in Critical Theory. After our dance she grabbed me powerfully by the shoulders as a commandante in a movie might, leaned down as though to kiss me on the cheek, & whispered in my good ear, "I dream of tenure." It was the Fifties all over again.


Wednesday, May 06, 2009

"Landscape with Arson" by Jennifer Grotz

Have you ever watched a cigarette released from a driver's fingers
swim through the night air and disintegrate in tiny embers?
Invisible by day, fire's little shards, its quiet dissemination.

That's how, one hot afternoon, no one noticed when
something desperate made the boy devise the strategy
to siphon gas from the motorcycle with a discarded straw,

spitting mouthfuls into a fast food cup until there was enough
to set the apartment complex on fire.
It happened in a neighborhood at the edge of town

where the wind sifted a constant precipitation of dust
like desiccated snow and the newly-poured streets
looked like frosting spread across the desert field.

Ducks had just found the man-made pond.
At dusk, they waddled ashore
to explore the construction site like the boy.

He started with the door. Stood mesmerized
as the fire took on new colors. He fed it litter
collected from the field. It hissed and turned green,

it splintered pink, it bloomed aureoles of blue.
But there was hardly time to admire it before
remorse overtook him and he fled.

Before the howl of sirens. He was
gone before—he started with the door—whatever
he wanted to let out.

Something can stop being true in the time it takes
a cigarette to burn to its filter. It was your crime
but it's me who goes back to the scene. Now it's only me

who wants to burn something for you, but there's nothing left—how
do you set fire to the past? Only an impulse to shake free—like cellophane
peeled from a pack—something that clings.

Sometimes I conjure a fire for you in my mind,
the gnats swarming furiously above the water, up and down,
can you see it? How they mimic flame, hovering

at the pond's edge. Lately I find myself there all the time.


Monday, April 27, 2009

"Sitting Down to Breakfast Alone" by Christian Wiman

Brachest, she called it, gentling grease
over blanching yolks with an expertise
honed from three decades of dawns
at the Longhorn Diner in Loraine,
where even the oldest in the old men’s booth
swore as if it were scripture truth
they’d never had a breakfast better,
rapping a glass sharply to get her
attention when it went sorrowing
so far into some simple thing—
the jangly door or a crusted pan,
the wall clock’s black, hitchy hands—
that she would startle, blink, then grin
as if discovering them all again.
Who remembers now when one died
the space that he had occupied
went unfilled for a day, then two, three,
until she unceremoniously
plunked plates down in the wrong places
and stared their wronged faces
back to banter she could hardly follow.
Unmarried, childless, homely, “slow,”
she knew coffee cut with chamomile
kept the grocer Paul’s ulcer cool,
yarrow in gravy eased the islands
of lesions in Larry Borwick’s hands,
and when some nightlong nameless urgency
made him seek some human company
Brother Tom needed hash-browns with cheese.
She knew to nod at the litany of cities
the big-rig long-haulers bragged her past,
to laugh when the hunters asked
if she’d pray for them or for the quail
they went laughing off to kill,
and then—envisioning one
rising so fast it seemed the sun
tugged at it—to do exactly that.
Who remembers where they all sat:
crook-backed builders, drought-faced farmers,
VF’ers muttering through their wars,
night-shift roughnecks so caked in black
it seemed they made their way back
every morning from the dead.
Who remembers one word they said?
The Longhorn Diner’s long torn down,
the gin and feedlots gone, the town
itself now nothing but a name
at which some bored boy has taken aim,
every letter light-pierced and partial.
Sister, Aunt Sissy, Bera Thrailkill,
I picture you some dime-bright dawn
grown even brighter now for being gone
bustling amid the formica and chrome
of that small house we both called home
during the spring that was your last.
All stories stop: once more you are lost
in something I can merely see:
steam spiriting out of black coffee,
the scorched pores of toast, a bowl
of apple butter like edible soil,
bald cloth, knifelight, the lip of a glass,
my plate’s gleaming, teeming emptiness.