barbarian

Standard

Barbarian
Carl Phillips

—You know that moment when you’ve left someone,
even knowing you could stay with him and it could work,
and there’s no one else, nothing like that, still you don’t
go back, is that what’s meant by free will, or is that
fate—what it’s been,
all along? Sometimes—even here,
in what I hope is the early part, still, of the second half
of my statistical life, where I’ve figured out how to be
mostly alone, left alone, as in that’s how I want it—it’s               as if I’ve let myself down, which only has to mean
I’ve expected too much of myself—“of,” not “for”; about
that much, I think I’m still quite clear. Likewise,
like being told to write a love poem without images or
maybe two exceptions
can seem the only way I’ve known how to love a person,
but that makes it sound like a bad thing. That
can’t be right … At this time of year, the best light arrives
just before nightfall. It’s when the trees seem most               what they’ve always been: trees not questioning
their necessarily unpersuadable selves, trees beneath
which, after storms especially, I find the occasional
downed bird, dead or, more difficult, still dying. Who can
say what it counts for, but I believe
not nothing. That I’ve rested my head
on the ground beside it. That in
what was left of the light I sang to it. Hush now.
You’re not the first piece of gentleness to have crossed this hand.

characteristics of life

Standard

Characteristics of Life
Camille T. Dungy

A fifth of animals without backbones could be at risk of extinction, say scientists.
—BBC Nature News

Ask me if I speak for the snail and I will tell you
I speak for the snail.
speak of underneathedness
and the welcome of mosses,
of life that springs up,
little lives that pull back and wait for a moment.

I speak for the damselfly, water skeet, mollusk,
the caterpillar, the beetle, the spider, the ant.
I speak
from the time before spinelessness was frowned upon.

Ask me if I speak for the moon jelly. I will tell you
one thing today and another tomorrow
and I will be as consistent as anything alive
on this earth.

I move as the currents move, with the breezes.
What part of your nature drives you? You, in your cubicle
ought to understand me. I filter and filter and filter all day.

Ask me if I speak for the nautilus and I will be silent
as the nautilus shell on a shelf. I can be beautiful
and useless if that’s all you know to ask of me.

Ask me what I know of longing and I will speak of distances
between meadows of night-blooming flowers.
I will speak
the impossible hope of the firefly.

You with the candle
burning and only one chair at your table must understand
such wordless desire.

To say it is mindless is missing the point.

When Your Mother Asks If You’re Seeing Anyone And No Longer Means A Therapist

Standard

When Your Mother Asks If You’re Seeing Anyone And No Longer Means A Therapist
-Cindy King

It’s tough to find a cardiologist who dates
patients from the Ward of Cracked Hearts, but
there’s always the bariatric surgeon
who thinks you could drop a few pounds. If it’s too late
for the death row inmate, try the child predator, you too
could date the would-be senator, or even the President of the United States.
If you can’t have the priest, don’t give up.
You too could fall for the charismatic cult leader. You too
could try the celibate polygamist. Admittedly,
you’d have to share, and you wouldn’t know for sure
if you’re actually dating, or whether you’d ever “consummate,”
but who’s in it for that kind of thing anyway, unless,
of course, you’d finally give me a grandchild.
You didn’t spend years in braces only to settle
for a dental assistant, did you?
We didn’t correct your overbite just so you could eat
your dinners alone. It took sacrifice to cultivate your eligibility, years
of home perms and hand-me-downs, decades of clearance rack cosmetics.
And yet the people you called friends were privileged
enough to discover your brain and not your body. BTW, did
you see that profile pic of the head floating in a jar?
Though I’m not sure if it’s really enough to love.
But love you will as everyone does
toward infinite grace, the axe
into the olive branch, verisimilitude
to abstraction, even the sarcophagus toward mummy dust,
the intellect to its dementia. And I will support you as the mantle
above the fireplace supports the little box, house
to your spouse’s ashes.

Photo by Emre Gencer on Unsplash

litany while

Standard

Litany While Reading Scripture in the Gynecologic Oncology Waiting Room
Leila Chatti

And God said, let there be blood

And God said, flood

And God said, good

is a woman with fruit

in her womb and not

in her hand

And God said, sin

And God did not say, forgive

And God said, I will make a stormy wind

And God said, son, a breath

stirring

And God said, highly favored

And God said, condemned

And God said, I will blot out man

whom I have created, for I am sorry

that I have made them

And God said, listen

And sunk a boy

in her like a stone

liberty

Standard

Liberty
Rudy Francisco

In 1983, illusionist David Copperfield
made the Statue of Liberty disappear.
He placed a curtain in front of the monument
and when he pulled it down the 3,000-foot
statue was no longer there.

I think about how this magic trick
has become too familiar. Liberty
just vanishing without any explanations.

What the Woman Said

Standard

What the Woman Said
Marie Howe

I don’t want to offend anybody but I never did like
fucking all that much. Like I always say

the saw enjoys the wood more than the wood enjoys
the saw—know what I mean?
I used to think

I could be like the girl in the movies—
then I watched myself—when it was happening—

my eyes closed, my head tilted back as if I were
him seeing me—and I couldn’t feel anything.

I was watching me, and I was someone else who
looked like she was having a good time. Seems like

I spent years like that, watching him (whoever he was)
watching me—I have to admit

it was easier when he left. I’d watch myself watch him
leave and hear the strain of music swell up like a story.

watch myself walk back into the house and close the door
and lean against it.

I want to tell you everything I know about being alive but I
missed a lot of living that way—

My life was a story, dry as pages. Seems like he should have known
enough to lick them even lightly with his thumb

But he didn’t. And I have to admit I didn’t much like the idea
of telling him how.

Photo by Matt Artz on Unsplash

certain days

Standard

Certain Days
Grace Paley

On certain days I am not in love
and my heart turns over

crowding the lungs for
air

driving blood in and out of
the skull improving my mind

working muscles to the bone

dashing resonance out of a roaring sea
at my nerve endings

Not much is needed

air

good sense

power

a noisy taking in and a
loud giving back

Then my heart like any properly turned
motor takes off in sparks dragging all that machinery
through the blazing day
like grass
which our lord knows
I am

Photo by Peter Yost on Unsplash