breathless

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Breathless
Billy Collins

Some like the mountains, some like the seashore,
Jean-Paul Belmondo says
to the camera in the opening scene.

Some like to sleep face up,
some like to sleep on their stomachs,
I am thinking here in bed–

some take the shape of murder victims
flat on their backs all night,
others float face down on the dark waters.

Then there are those like me
who prefer to sleep on their sides,
knees brought up to the chest,

head resting on a crooked arm
and a soft fist touching the chin,
which is the way I would like to be buried,

curled up in a coffin
in a fresh pair of cotton pajamas,
a down pillow under my weighty head.

After a lifetime of watchfulness
and nervous vigilance,
I will be more than ready for sleep,

so never mind the dark suit,
the ridiculous tie
and the pale limp hands crossed on the chest.

Lower me down in my slumber,
tucked into myself
like the oldest fetus on earth,

and while the cows look over the stone wall
of the cemetery, let me rest here
in my earthy little bedroom,

my lashes glazed with ice,
the roots of trees inching nearer,
and no dreams to frighten me anymore.

Image (c) S Donaghy

my history as

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My History As
Emily Skaja

In my history, I was bones eating paper
or I was paper eating bones. Semantics.

I lived in a narrow house;
I lived with a man who said

You fucked up your own life, who said
I could never love someone so heavy.

The place was brick on brick
with iron grates covering the windows—

rowhouse cage, South Philly. I was learning
how some of us are made to be carrion birds,

& some of us are made to be circled.
Somewhere in this education

I stopped eating. Held up my hands
to see if my bones would glow in the dark.

My boat name could have been
HMS Floating, Though Barely.

Meanwhile I had a passion for cartography.
Not leaving, just coloring the maps.

I covered all the walls with white paint, whiter paint, spiraling out— a weather
system curling over water.

I always drew the compass rose flat.
I was metal-blue, I was running my mouth

like a bathtub tap. A bone picked clean of particulates.
Everything has some particular science.

By its nature, a vulture can’t
be a common field crow, for instance.

Look at the wings, look at that hard
mouth, look at the feet.

When I tell my history, I can’t leave out
how I hit that man in the jaw,

how I wasn’t good at mercy,
how eating nothing but white pills & white air

made me unchartable—
I can’t skip to the end just to say

well it was fragile & I smashed it
                                   & everything’s over, well now I know things

that make me unlikely.
What am I supposed to say: I’m free?

I learned to counter like a torn edge
frayed from the damp. That’s how I left it.

Leaving the river, leaving
wet tracks arrowed in the brush.

meeting after years

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A Meeting after Many Years
Ted Kooser

Our words were a few colorful leaves
afloat on a very old silence,
the kind with a terrifying undertow,
and we stood right at its edge,
wrapping ourselves in our own arms
because of the chill, and with old voices
called back and forth across all those years
until we could bear it no longer,
and turned from each other,
and walked away into our countries.

Photo by Greg Shield on Unsplash

feather of mist

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Heaven
David Baker
All afternoon the sprinkler ticks and sprays,
ticks and sprays in lazy rounds, trailing
a feather of mist. When I turn it off,
the cicadas keep up their own dry rain,
passing on high from limb to limb.
I don’t know what has shocked me more,
that you are gone, that I am still here,
that there is music after the end.

snow

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Snow
Vladimir Holan

It began to snow at midnight. And certainly
the kitchen is the best place to sit,
even the kitchen of the sleepless.
It's warm there, you cook yourself something, drink wine
and look out of the window at your friend eternity.
Why care whether birth and death are merely points
when life is not a straight line?
Why torment yourself eyeing the calendar
and wondering what is at stake?
Why confess you don't have the money
to buy Saskia shoes?
And why brag
that you suffer more than others?

If there were no silence here
the snow would have dreamed it up.
You are alone.
Spare the gestures. Nothing for show.

____

in the mirror

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Things I Should Say to Myself in the Mirror or Things I Would Say to the City of St. Louis If It Could Hear Me
Jacqui Germain
I’ve been planning
to leave you for years.
It began as a quiet urging
in the bottom of my heels
and now I dream
only of highways.
My desk drawer
opens to the smell
of engine exhaust
and the letter I wrote
when I was nineteen
and made my wrists
a cave of plane tickets.

It is a sign of prudent planning
to have marked an escape route
through your own bones.

Once, after all the policemen
left your forearm,
I walked my eyes along
the scar tissue on Delmar,
pretending, casually,
that I was your lover.
I did it nearly every day
for a whole summer
until I couldn’t help
but smell entirely of skin.

Don’t be so hard
on yourself. Half of you
is postcard, while the other
half of you is trying
to rebuild what, years ago,
was burned to the ground
by someone else. You are
always rebuilding. You are
always reaching for the river.

You have survived so much
that no one remembers.
And you still spread warm
rain on all your overgrown
lots. And you still get dressed
in the morning. You still
open wide for the sun.

for the dead

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If I Speak for the Dead I Must Leave
Nick Flynn

You opened my mouth
& filled it

with stones, for days
then weeks then

years, we swam until we
couldn’t, like

horses, our bodies,
little noises—

now this now this—

until it didn’t make any
sense . . . . Did we really

believe that

if we could just return to
the source & fully

we might then be able
to sink back into it? I

woke up in a boat once I
couldn’t

remember, I opened my mouth
& then, little snake, you

were gone. I didn’t know
you might not

come back. Once I

could say I’d never kissed
anyone

who is now dead, once

that was true, as if
my lips were a cure, as if death

wasn’t the only reason we
got into that boat. It

held us for as long as
it did, that’s all we can say,

until it didn’t.

Photo by Osman Rana on Unsplash

circus pony

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Circus Pony
Tomás Q. Morín

What joy to say our short, winter days
are behind us now. Gone the old life we filled
with empty laughter, the times we’d pack
the backseat with every hitchhiking clown
we happened upon—our record was eight
until the year our fathers died. Gone
the red-nosed hours, our grotesque smiles
drawn large and wide, when we rehearsed
our cold routines of “Hey, are you ok?” and “Fine.
I’ll be fine.” Remember the long seconds—three
slow ones in all—before your face
that took an hour to apply turned grave
or the look you wore, sadder than any clown’s
in the rain, that was my cue to knit my brow
and continue fumbling with the three-sizes-too-small
hammer you handed me so I could once more fix
the swaybacked rocking horse we purchased
to ward off an unspoken future in which we
are continents apart, surrounded by our hungry
new families as we slice and dismantle
the same braised roast and lament how
we could have let hope stray, how the story
of our lives might have been different
if it had contained, however lame, something
we could have ridden into the sunset on.
Photo by Henry Chuy on Unsplash