“Above Everything” (David Ignatow)

I think this poem is gorgeous: it fills me with such peace and hope. I especially like that he has placed “others like myself” between “plants and animals” and “ships and buildings.” I also think the semicolon, the only one in the poem, is perfectly placed, and the title is perfect, too, sitting as it does atop the poem — and reappearing as its last line.

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“Home”

A 2-year-old Honduran asylum seeker cries as her mother is searched and detained near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018

by Warsan Shire

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbours running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

the
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here.

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“Good Bones”

Dilapidated-House

by Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,

right? You could make this place beautiful.

October

robin egg

I will tell you about the naked oak in our yard and about

my dead robin, June, who couldn’t fly south for winter

and about the Cooper’s hawk that swooped down to eat

the poor thing, pecking first at a dull eye, while close by

two cracked eggs, each the size of a large jelly bean,

lay oozing yolk and about the cold sky pulled thin and

plumed across my low horizon and about Hyena, with

his pail full of silver buckshot, who shouted from across

the avenue, “Wanna lick my lollipop, pancake tits?”

while behind him two fat boys cackled, with Br’er

Rabbit, the older by some years, in Daddy’s pink shirt

and about mother leaving for the City, her thin

lips painted plump, and about my gray lunch

congealing in a tin pan that sat on the top rack of a

cold oven and about the canned peaches she dumped

into a tea cup and placed on a shelf in her

refrigerator. But not yet and not here

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Colder stars

stars on a cold night

Where do we go from here,

when it is nightfall,

when soon the cold stars will spin,

the moon will die again,

and the marsh peeper

will call out to his coy lover,

who may or may not appear?

Must I beg for that last drink of you,

that spilling grace,

or for the touch of

a cool hand?

Longing can become a dark dog

awakening briefly to an emptied bowl.

If I leave here tonight unwhole,

will a smaller god follow me,

whining,

back home?

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When love leaves her beloved

Waxing crescent moon

 Even love will catch her death

under a cold moon will become

a patch of brown grass buried

beneath an early frost will shiver

into a single dark vine winding

around a splintered trellis will crawl

panting across a desert floor will dry

up to a trickle of water down the

face of a stone mountain will run

frightened through a long hallway will slip

unseen out a side entrance will know

when it is time to turn and pull

the door closed behind her.

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llamas gemelas

carta-tarot-lovers

love is a lunatic aunt

come down from the Bronx to

rant about her maybe baby

and prophesy calamity

she’ll say

he some dark eyed

dreamer Diego

and need him

chubby chicas

on the side

with they aye papi way

she’ll say

he gonna kill me

dead that one

and snuff these holy flame

gonna do miss mujerzuela

so as give him nena pain

she’ll say

lo siento sobrina but

you don’t got no chance

I just thrown the lovers’ tarot

and seen trouble with romance

first I pull the tower then

the devil after that so I think

you better go mami

before you too much fat

* llamas gemelas = “twin flames”

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Montana 1948: a novel

readingSome years ago, I taught a literature course in which, among other works, we read Montana 1948, a powerful novel by Larry Watson. The book sparked interesting class discussions over a period of several weeks, though none more intriguing — to me at least — than the one that took place after I found myself reminding students we were talking about a work of fiction, which meant the story, though written in the first person, was not true.

One student, a very quiet young man who always sat in the way back, seemed not to have understood that the book was entirely spun out of sugar and air until he heard my jolting reminder. When my words registered with him, he looked as though I had punched him low and hard. Because he had all along believed the story to be true, he said he felt betrayed — so much so that he told us he would never again read another novel. Other students said they also felt bamboozled, though no one else vowed to give up on fiction for good.

Even when I was a very young and inexperienced writer of fiction and poetry, I often got twisted around this idea of truth-telling and wondered what it actually meant for me to be an honest writer of made-up stories and poems. Over time, I have come to think that truth-telling is any writer’s true north and that sensitive readers will know an honest piece of writing, no matter the genre, by the way it makes them feel. Judging by the student responses in my class, I’d say Larry Watson’s compass needle was stuck on “N” all the while he was writing Montana 1948.

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About the dramatic monologue

For many years I have been fascinated by the use of a technique in poetry known as the “dramatic monologue.” Though he certainly wasn’t the first to use this technique (or form), Victorian poet Robert Browning perfected it in such poems as “Porphyria’s Lover” (a favorite) and “My Last Duchess.” Later, T.S. Eliot used the form in his famous poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (another favorite), and John Berryman used it in his “Dream Songs.” Poems that incorporate dramatic monologue — also known as persona poems — typically make use of one “character” through whom the poem is spoken or delivered. Because a poem using this technique is often in the first person, it is tempting to conclude that the poem’s narrator and the poet are one and the same. But don’t be fooled! Writing this type of poem allows the writer to adopt the “voice” of the character and to inhabit him or her from the inside out (as an actor might). And, because there is no overt commentary about or analysis of the character given within the poem itself, it is left to the reader to decide the poem’s meaning and power by paying close attention to what the often “unreliable narrator” says — or doesn’t say. Of my recent poetry, “Tripping then falling” is a dramatic monologue — as is “and said,” along with “The Other Mary” — but other poems posted on this blog also make use of the technique. If you want to find all of my poems in one place, click here or on the “poems” tab at the top of the homepage.

Exquisite sound poetry ♫

you+me

Rose ave. is a collaboration between Alecia Moore (aka Pink) and Dallas Green (of City and Colour), and it is one of the most beautiful, and haunting, collections of songs I have ever heard. Singing of love and loss, Moore and Green — who call themselves you+me — showcase delicate, complex harmonies and an extraordinary vocal range. I especially like “Love Gone Wrong” for its simple but catchy “baby…baby” lyrics and for its use of point/counterpoint. And, hard as it might be to believe, they go Sade one better in their harrowing version of her “No Ordinary Love.” If you’d like to hear the full album, click here.

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