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.


Friday, April 24, 2009

"Twelve Movies" by Ishai Barnoy

hen I was told to watch twelve movies—
oh, any twelve—which isn't
bad advice, told
probably to make me take time off
from being so serious.
Or as if time, like this, can be so simply
gleaned into rough twelfths
to some effect,
which isn't an incorrect view, nor an imperfect figure—
on the contrary, both correct and good!
Like twelve people I know, like twelve perfected parts of me.
And the books in the room turned,
or just angled slightly,
as if to say, "Hell,
why not? We don't know!"
And since I normally place my trust in them,
I let it come,
the deluge of phrases.
I let it wash off these layers of mine—
these confused skins—
until it would be satisfied with its flensing.
And I let the movie theater
wrench itself out of the concrete and creep up
seductively, with its lips
gradually opening over my head—"Hello, Ishai," it said.
"Hello, movie theater," I echoed
from inside that long throat.

And my scarf rolled off my neck, and my coat
dropped ripe onto the carpeted floor,
then my shirt and pants and other mentionables,
and I came out pink as on my birthday—though, I suppose
with black spots here and there,
a partly healthy, partly still-alright
pinkish onion.
Like an overgrown child,
imagining myself unveiled—
a tragically trusting twelve-year-old,
which is the person that I resemble
when drunk, or when heavily flattered,
as in a room—the room—
hearing a voice recite all the possible courses of action,
and me, ah me,
expecting that this time (whatever time it is),
when I step outside, it might finally be Spring,
or possibly the end of days,
which is okay—perfect even!

And I would reach out
in the post-apocalyptic dark of the movie theater
for those handles grafted
in between the other animals,
those ones that used to eat one another,
the handles that marked my place
in that poetic future,
all of which I surely must have seen
and somewhere still remembered from a dozen movies.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

"Beautiful without Money" by T. Zachary Cotler

Suddenly fatigued among French
women in the Roman

Empire rooms of the museum,
I fall out of circulation

on a bench. Bronze
heads, helms, a Byzantine

spoon, sixth century, engraved,
attributed to Virgil: O handsome

youth, do not believe too much
in beauty; you cannot be

beautiful without money ... women fall,
tucking skirts, onto my bench,

being suddenly flesh and scent,
and do not speak to me.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

"The Meeting in Madrid" by Ron Slate

Listen, the band still plays in the plaza
but my Spanish friends are weary.
They turn from each other sluggishly,
simply tired, but it feels like a misfortune.

Among all people they suffer the most
from prosperity, assuming the habits
of updated Danes, globalized Poles.
Alejandro departs early from his house
in the new suburb, too far to return
for a nap at siesta time, siete,
the seventh hour after dawn.

It was my job to incite the nations
to productivity, inducing Greeks to adopt
the advances of Swedes. One could deceive
a whole world by staying alert.

Alejandro's eyelids quivered while the Germans
presented their plan for expansion.
The Spaniards nap in buses,
barber chairs, dressing rooms, toilet stalls.
The most exhausted people of Europe,
deprived of their devoted shadow, their dream.
Caffeinated but dull, fatigued by enthusiasm.

Waking at dawn in New York in 1930,
Lorca lamented the pillars of slime.
He gazed at the palisades and saw,
staggering in the suburbs, insomniacs.

In Madrid I heard the dual tongues
of the present—the first, quelling the tension
felt in the past and feared for the future—
the other, tragic and personal, continuous
with the past, ambiguous, conflicted.
It all made me miss the comfort of my wife.

The hotel manager entered our meeting room
without knocking: a threat,
please take your coats,
there's a breeze this evening,
the police have arrived,
please use the stairway, not the lift.

We waited on the plaza
while the band wondered what to play
at a time like this—something
to console or wake the world,
or simply to please themselves.

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