Thursday, February 24, 2011

‘Crush #49’ by Lea Graham

                                                A space must be maintained or desire ends.     
                                                                                                —Anne Carson

about your knees he whispered

above the hough, above the tongue

across certain palms

after evaporation, lacey & leaf-like

against oil derricks, the dark undazzle

along the avenue, hair toss & fuck all

among a scumbling of colors

around, glittering with joy

at the table : you’re beautiful    you’re beautiful    pass me the pepper

before I go

behind the dunes

below the belt

beneath alabaster, vitrified

beside himself

between sacrum & ilium

by gum

down river

during gibbous moons

except Vienna & Paris

for this poem

from the 12 strings to my heart

in rough sheets three times or more

in auricles, in airports

inside the stall beneath

instead of a kiss

into the south of it

like her petunias

near(er) she said

of moustache to helix

off the charts

on the lawn, paler than condoms’ gleam

on top of her nightstand

onto the next thing

out of chants & variation

outside windows, that entering takes away

over & over & over (again)

past Arcturus

since April is

through corners we dance

to Halsted & Taylor

towards geometry

under enormous pressure of circumstance

underneath, yes, underneath

until Cooley came to town

up Lisa Lane

upon learning “My Foolish Heart”

with him not there—

within ear’s hive

without him—    she hears him, she sees

(published in The Bedside Guide to the No Tell Motel, Second Floor Anthology, 2007)

‘Crush Starting with a Line by Jack Gilbert’ by Lea Graham

Desire perishes because it tries to be love
& so, I think, why search or seek it?  Entering
its way out the backdoor, calling as Narcissus
himself, curious to himself only—only

this echo.  Yet, some days wild turkeys wing clumsy
across windshields, or poets come to town
& language flocks before flying south, before
jubilee, before hush & slack. In chance,

what we flush from beech & oak, or her  flush blooming
at a table, remains, persists as flight, or flown:
 trace of bird in my eye, balloon drift among sky,
proposing hand, arm.  What is not sexual, though

sex is part, catches life en theos.  Not love, but its
roaming kin & nonetheless, wonderful alone.

(published in The Notre Dame Review, Summer/Fall 2010)

'Crushed in Poughkeepsie Time' by Lea Graham

Whale-rending along these shores leads us to South Seas, a silk factory, hotel burnings; like dreams’ net or currents one with another— hemlock-black,

brackish & lovely, fresh or tang, estuary’s switch.  That all time cannot exist at once in our heads: cigar-making & electric trolleys, how you bent & sighed into

your shoes, peeled oranges in the shape of eyes.  What is forgotten lingers, the “lion-headed store front,” bobs or busts through this now, a warning without

warning, can you dig it, a buoy of the past, place-marker & maker, tricked out as “picking your feet” in The French Connection, cough drops called “Trade”

& “Mark,” rising high school rafters in Marian Anderson’s contralto. 
Imagine histories current: ferries trawl nigh 300 years; Brando haunts Happy

Jack’s on Northbridge Street.  We might say Poughkeepsie & hear “reed-covered lodge near the place of the little-water,” “the Queen City,” “safe & pleasant

harbor,” look & see the Pequod chief & his beloved spooning in the shade.  This river sailing the Half-Moon back to Crusades, a city spelled 42 ways & young

Vassar brewing in Newburgh. Rio San Gomez is the Mauritius is the Muheakantuck is the Lordly Hudson, place of the deepest water & river

of the steep hills— what if we are still dancing in Chicago’s hottest summer as Wappingi braves are coming up the path & Van Kleek’s house just yonder

Fall Kill?  You are writing me letters from Rio Dulce & I am eating bagels at the Reo Diner.  Modjeski sits imagining this bridge; his mother swoons as Juliet

in Crakow.  At night the lights of these still busy foundries become strange fires, beckoning America—& maybe not; their great furnaces’ ambient noise, soughing

across these waters; concurrent worlds asleep, dreaming, not dreaming

(published in The Notre Dame Review, Summer/Fall 2010)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

'At Last and Everlasting' by Reb Livingston

This is where we surpass the love of mothmen and mothers

and foretell burnt wings, death by hummingbird

estimators arriving much too late to the scene

and this is usually when he laces her back

and then his coffee

there's hot comfort on the side, comfort belonging to someone else

and he named the island after another because the name he wanted was            forbidden

and it began in a valley, ravaged by cargo trains

dragging loads of coal, dusty smutty coal

suck the coal, pray for the coal, what's wrong with you

she specifically said never kiss the coal and there you go

quarreling with bed lamps, attracting the wrong creatures

pick these walnuts, peel the rot, watch these girls

these ones aren't permitted past the church

and these can go till the end of the lane

whatever you do, don't let them rip off the wings

girls are so cruel

coal sucking Venuses, cartwheel thrusting harlots

and when he says coming through, he means passing through

that means you ready the casserole and let him roll

and she means it all, every bit, and knows that cornbread will make you sick

and there's tainted tuna for dessert and those late trains that

she doesn't want you talking to – sound amazing

and they're totally different in the dark

fluttering, channeling their depressing little omens

dreamy romantic trains and moths, chugging towards that light

and she's threatening to hang herself and she's asking for $50

and she has a cat and there's a lot of foreclosures in this city

and who would have thought anti-lock brakes would shake like that

and who would have thought kissing coal could be like this

there's a thousand chemical reactions and they all warm apples

into decay, apples loving their creaking branches

even after dropped, watching from the ground

those apples know all

the squirrels pilfering nuts, lavish deceitful squirrels

brown licey beautiful squirrels, it's time to rethink the medication

time to give up the ghost, she doesn't see it anyhow

she's shutting the ambulance door, the girls whisper emergency

the girls twirl their mustaches and tie the specter to the tracks

the girls tell the specter to step into that light and leave their moths alone

bitchy home-wrecking wraith, dirty train-hopping banshee

it's a miracle, it's forever, we're doomed

we're wearing matching smarty pants, we're disasters, we're marooned,

festooned with soot and stickiness, we've come a long way

through all that haze, on the backs on insects,

streetlight by streetlight, endless blocks ahead

(from her book Your Ten Favorite Words, Coconut Books, 2007)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

'Domesticity' by Claire Bateman

The dollhouse was so exquisite that the servants, finding it uncanny, refused to approach it, so the little girl understood that she must dust it herself. And dust it she did, with the regular feather duster for the roof & exterior walls, & the dollhouse-sized feather duster for the billiard table, the sideboards, the tea wagon, the bassinet, the four-posters, the chiffonier, the escritoire, the overflowing coal scuttle, the eggcups, the shaving brush, the boar’s head forever on the verge of utterance, the little man with his spreading sideburns, his widow’s peak, & his historical sense of injury, & the little woman with her diamond teardrop earrings & secret Swedenborgian leanings. Also the baby, whose wax was still soft & warm, & the little dollhouse girl, who had lost her pearl ring in her golden hair where it ceaselessly traveled, in love with its private itineraries.

(from her book Leap, New Issues, 2005)

'Sweet' by Claire Bateman

Goldilocks finds the cottage oddly familiar,
even to the rich, ripe scent of childhood—whose?
The big bed is like a giant custard;
it loves her too greedily.
The middle bed is prim as a porcelain pillbox;
it has everything to do with reform,
& nothing to do with comfort.
The little bed is just lonely enough to please her.
Tucked in by her imaginary nanny,
she's a compact sugar bomb.
The whole cottage fears her kamikaze heart,
standard in quiescent little girls;
the hearth tongs tiptoe out in the company of the teapot
as everything dismantles around her
until the clipped lawn, strewn with domestic items,
resembles a flea market in fugue state.

Meanwhile, deep in the woods,
the Bears are taking their walk.
Their clothes make them a little anxious:
starched ruffles & buttons—
also, walking upright.
Baby Bear murmurs a slight song:
We are harmless, harmless.
Is this what bears do? they wonder,
not actually knowing
any other bears.

(from her book Leap, New Issues, 2005)

Monday, February 21, 2011

‘Day of the Dead’ by Stacey Johnson Donovan


Burying a person you love, actually doing the work,
gives you a capable feeling like baking bread.
So what if the spirit remains to flicker around
the bones.  It doesn’t mind the dirt like we do.
What if the ghost of the heart keeps beating.
Good.  Heart burning like a holy bush,
heart sweet as an orange stuck full of cloves,
heart calm, blue eyes unblinking.
See a flat skunk broil on the highway.
Watch the news.  Carry the body on
your shoulders.  Burn it with roses,
put it in the ground with rice and wine.
Don’t worry.  Heart sequined like Christmas.
It knows what to do.  Even when you’re dead,
when life may always hang over your head
for the sake of ritual and mystery. 
But being left alone is another thing.
Walking back home at night with a cup
of bitter beer you carry beneath your shirt—
it sloshes on your shirt, it has a few
bugs and leaves in it.  You’ll finish it.
You may keep on drinking it for years.
You may never forget how it used to be.


Death changes with climates.  In such a hot country
decay is so quick that there seems less to fear.
And thirst so rampant.  Tiny clay skulls
for the earlobes are charming.  Sugar skulls
for the children.  It’s hard to laugh at malice
but you laugh at what happens to everyone,
like you laugh at love, and know it’s serious.
A woman who knew she wanted to kill herself
suddenly wondered if she’d have the energy.
That made her grin.  The ones who kill themselves
have their own place to go.  It’s not heaven.
It’s dark, cold, but romantic in its way.
In a dark room, but alive, and drunk, dressed up
for someone and sweating, leaning out a window
to look down at the alley where gamblers hunch
with the dice that give off sparks when thrown.
Or you straddle the chair in front of the fan
before you get up for more, transistor, battered
flamenco guitar.  Dancing’s a matter
of life and death.  You feel them both at once.
Someone said, You need good memories
to keep you occupied through all the dead’s
long boring afternoons.  Do all you can.

(published in Grand Street 45, 1993)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

'My Psychic History So Far' by Daniel Luévano

As long as we're on the subject of grandmas—
maybe mine had a psychic experience
while in psychiatric care at Providence,
                    after OD-ing again.

We would ask her, my mother and I,
"How was your day?"
and she'd say, "Oh, 611"
and we'd say, "Huh?" and she'd say,
"87" and we'd say,
"Did you like your dinner OK?"
and she'd say, "347"
and it was kind of like talking to the I Ching.

So maybe Grandma was an oracle we'll never crack,
'cause I can't say she ever really spoke to us again.

But you know,
nothing really supernatural has ever happened to me
                    and I'm kind of disappointed.
No abductors or precognition,
near-death or devils,
no dead or vibrating, electrifying cusp triggering recall in the atmosphere. . . .
And I've been such a buff,
                    since I was a kid.

Kids, you know,
dream about being superhuman, super-
natural—adults too,
                    and that goes for adults.

(published in The Expatriate, 1995)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

'On Memory & How It Cannot Be Used As Data' by Jen Luévano

You see, the boy drops
onto his bicycle seat &
is gone before I see him

leave just as my grand-
mother left years before
we see her die.

It is this way with the living
who are lived
out & medicine takes them

into death with a heart
beat & some nurses
who administer each pill

to themselves before
putting the patient
to bed.  We all saw

this in the nursing home
as we watched our old
naked woman be untied

by the day manager
who was crying &
apologizing for her staff.

& so much food
on the floor -- just
like my grandmother

to throw down half
a turkey sandwich &
declare she will only eat

it with her mother, who
was my mother.
I can't even eat at Denny's

because the food, urine,
& disinfectant all
have wheelchair marks across them,

too.  We laughed as she re-
arranged furniture
in the night -- such a small

woman!  & that roommate
who shrieked "Now!  Now!"
& we just turned

our bodies against the storm of her
voice, leaning into the stiff rail of our old
woman's bed, hoping

the roommate would have
some family of her own
to write her name in the collars

of housecoats, because those
workers, you know, hate
all of them -- anyone could

see fear leak from employees'
sweaty fingers -- watch
as patient assistants became older

or get in a car wreck and be lodged
into a tight bed beside the woman
who was convinced I was her

granddaughter.  The boy
on the bike was just to get
me here, beyond the un-

answered prayers to the evan-
gelist who promised healing,
beyond hoping for her death

so I could have a family
again.  The boy did ride
past my house in those days, riding

down & up my street
until the last possible light
when he'd get up enough nerve

to look into my front window
just before he'd turn his bike up
the corner street and be gone.

(published in The Expatriate, 1995)