1. What Became

    What became of the dear
    strands of hair pressed
    against the perspiration
    of your lover’s brow
    after lovemaking as you gazed
    into the world of those eyes,
    now only yours?

    What became of any afternoon
    that was so vivid you forgot
    the present was up to its old
    trick of pretending
    it would be there
    always?

    What became of the one
    who believed so deeply
    in this moment he memorized
    everything in it and left
    it for you?

    By Wesley McNair.

     
  2. A Small Story about the Sky

    The fire was so fierce,
    So red, so gray, so yellow
    That, along with the land,
    It burned part of the sky
    Which stayed black in that corner
    For years,
    As if it were night there
    Even in the daytime,
    A piece of the sky burnt
    And which then
    Could not be counted on
    Even by the birds.

    It was a regular fire—
    Terrible—we forget this
    About fire—terrible
    And full of pride.
    It intended to be
    Big, no regular fire.
    Like so many of us,
    It intended to be more
    And this time was.
    It was not better or worse
    Than any other fire
    Growing up.
    But this time, it was a fire
    At just the right time
    And in just the right place—
    If you think like a fire—
    A place it could do something big.

    Its flames reached out
    With ten thousand pincers,
    As if the fire
    Were made of beetles and scorpions
    Clawing themselves to get up,
    Pinching the air itself
    And climbing,
    So many sharp animals
    On each other’s backs
    Then into the air itself,
    Ten thousand snaps and pinches
    At least,
    So that if the sky
    Was made of something,
    It could not get away this time.

    Finally the fire
    Caught the sky,
    Which acted like a slow rabbit
    Which had made a miscalculation.
    It didn’t believe this could happen
    And so it ran left,
    Right into the thin toothpicks of flames,
    Too fast to pull back,
    The sky with all its arms,
    Hands, fingers, fingernails,
    All of it
    Disappeared.
    Goodbye.

    The sky stayed black
    For several years after.
    I wanted to tell you
    This small story
    About the sky.
    It’s a good one
    And explains why the sky
    Comes so slowly in the morning,
    Still unsure of what’s here.
    But the story is not mine.
    It was written by fire,
    That same small fire
    That wanted to come home
    With something of its own
    To tell,
    And it did,
    A small piece of blue in its mouth.


    By Alberto Ríos.

     
  3. I Am Trying To Break Your Heart

    I am hoping
    to hang your head

    on my wall
    in shame—

    the slightest taxidermy
    thrills me. Fish

    forever leaping
    on the living-room wall—

    paperweights made
    from skulls

    of small animals.
    I want to wear

    your smile on my sleeve
    & break

    your heart like a horse
    or its leg. Weeks of being

    bucked off, then
    all at once, you’re mine—

    Put me down.

    I want to call you thine

    to tattoo mercy
    along my knuckles. I assassin
    down the avenue
    I hope

    to have you forgotten
    by noon. To know you

    by your knees
    palsied by prayer.

    Loneliness is a science—

    consider the taxidermist’s
    tender hands

    trying to keep from losing
    skin, the bobcat grin

    of the living.


    By Kevin Young.

     
  4. Here

    on Venus, time passes slowly because
    we are all preoccupied with love.
    The trees build up like sponges,
    the crust under us accumulates like coral,
    we begin to feel the long pressure
    the jewel feels, if the jewel feels,
    and, although this is suspicious belief,
    we welcome the illusion with that thrill
    formerly reserved for the profane.
    His hands are under her buttocks;
    her legs are bent on his shoulders;
    their extensions are the piping for
    “the best that has been thought or said.”
    The image is of a brain for all space.
    The universe, remember, is a ribbon
    where we follow back to the beginning
    and so meet that one of whom you were thinking
    when you mistook being here for being there.

    By Marvin Bell.

     
  5. Orion

    Far back when I went zig-zagging
    through tamarack pastures
    you were my genius, you
    my cast-iron Viking, my helmed
    lion-heart king in prison.
    Years later now you’re young

    my fierce half-brother, staring
    down from that simplified west
    your breast open, your belt dragged down
    by an old-fashioned thing, a sword
    the last bravado you won’t give over
    though it weighs you down as you stride

    and the stars in it are dim
    and maybe have stopped burning.
    But you burn, and I know it;
    as I throw back my head to take you in
    and old transfusion happens again:
    divine astronomy is nothing to it.

    Indoors I bruise and blunder
    break faith, leave ill enough
    alone, a dead child born in the dark.
    Night cracks up over the chimney,
    pieces of time, frozen geodes
    come showering down in the grate.

    A man reaches behind my eyes
    and finds them empty
    a woman’s head turns away
    from my head in the mirror
    children are dying my death
    and eating crumbs of my life.

    Pity is not your forte.
    Calmly you ache up there
    pinned aloft in your crow’s nest,
    my speechless pirate!
    You take it all for granted
    and when I look you back

    it’s with a starlike eye
    shooting its cold and egotistical spear
    where it can do least damage.
    Breath deep! No hurt, no pardon
    out here in the cold with you
    you with your back to the wall.


    By Adrienne Rich.

     
  6. Saint Judas

    When I went out to kill myself, I caught
    A pack of hoodlums beating up a man.
    Running to spare his suffering, I forgot
    My name, my number, how my day began,
    How soldiers milled around the garden stone
    And sang amusing songs; how all that day
    Their javelins measured crowds; how I alone
    Bargained the proper coins, and slipped away.

    Banished from heaven, I found this victim beaten,
    Stripped, kneed, and left to cry. Dropping my rope
    Aside, I ran, ignored the uniforms:
    Then I remembered bread my flesh had eaten,
    The kiss that ate my flesh. Flayed without hope,
    I held the man for nothing in my arms.


    By James Wright.

     
  7. Bloody Men

    Bloody men are like bloody buses
    You wait for about a year
    And as soon as one approaches your stop
    Two or three others appear.
    You look at them flashing their indicators,
    Offering you a ride.
    You’re trying to read the destinations,
    You haven’t much time to decide.
    If you make a mistake, there is no turning back.
    Jump off, and you’ll stand there and gaze
    While the cars and the taxis and lorries go by
    And the minutes, the hours, the days.

    By Wendy Cope.

     
  8. To A Reason

    A tap of your finger on the drum releases all sounds and initiates the new harmony.
    A step of yours is the conscription of the new men and their marching orders.
    You look away: the new love!
    You look back,—the new love!
    “Change our fates, shoot down the plagues, beginning with time,” the children sing to you. “Build wherever you can the substance of our fortunes and our wishes,” they beg you.
    Arriving from always, you’ll go away everywhere.


    By Arthur Rimbaud.
    Translated from French by John Ashbery.

     
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    Find me here in New York alone with the Alone
    going to lady psychiatrist who says Make time in your life
    for someone you can call darling, honey, who holds you dear
    can get excited & lay his head on your heart in peace.

    By Allen Ginsberg.

     
  10. Love Poem

    Speak earth and bless me with what is richest
    make sky flow honey our of my hips
    rigid as mountains
    spread over a valley
    carved out by the mouth of rain.

    And I knew when I entered her I was
    high wind in her forests hollow
    fingers whispering sound
    honey flowed
    from the split cup
    impaled on a lance of tongues
    on the tips of her breasts on her navel
    and my breath
    howling into her entrances
    through lungs of pain.

    Greedy as herring-gulls
    or a child
    I swing out over the earth
    over and over
    again.


    By Audre Lorde.