Off Storrow Drive by Anton Yakovlev

Off Storrow Drive

You take a gondola alone on the Charles River.
You’ve waited almost an hour for the tourists to leave,
rejected countless advances, declined to help a lost stripper.
By the time you board, your hair is covered with leaves:
they’ve been falling on you for an hour, but you didn’t bother
to shake them off. You’ve been watching the hotels downstream,
the unsteady way they cast reflections on water,
reminding you of a shaggy dog you’ve seen.

Tonight you have time to kill, lazy moments to ponder a question—
or three—before you head to the South End:
your cousin, the one with lung cancer, is starring in Shakespeare.
You’re going alone. You never told any of your friends.
The gondolier pushes the boat with the bottom end of a lantern—
an exotic stunt you could easily do without.
Passing under a bridge, he remarks with surprising candor
how unusual it is you’re not here with a lover or spouse.

You answer something monosyllabic, giggle.
Wherever you turn, he looms in your line of sight.
It hasn’t taken you long to wish you could leave here,
this was a bad idea. Once again you focus on lights:
in that blue Hyatt, the one that looks like a staircase,
in a room you haven’t yet seen and probably won’t,
your cousin is staying—or so you’ve read in his press kit.
You can almost see the sign on his door:

DO NOT DISTURB. You’ve only spent one summer together—
you were fourteen at the time; he was almost five.
You built toy cars out of wood, while he scribbled letters
in the sand: PIRATE, GANGSTER, KNIFE.
Today you still talk to each other. But mostly it’s just the facts:
he still shows up to high school most of the time,
still talks to people most of the time, still acts
in starring roles—an early career, his prime.

You know he will grab the audience, know there will be applause,
flowers—some of them yours,—an overblown banquet
where people in suits make speeches from boxes. Of course,
your cousin can’t drink, so he’ll find some excuse he can’t make it.
In the hallway, you will high five him. You won’t talk
of anything that really goes through your mind.
You will hug him, full of bravado, walk with him through the cold
streets of Boston, hug him, bid him good night.

Later, at around midnight, you will walk to the river again.
The gondolas will be parked away, and the water clear.
You will stand on the bridge and hum, remembering friends.
You will want to go back in time, invite them to theater.
You will wish for your cousin to visit you by your bedside
to talk to you about girls, an annoying clerk,
his fear of death—not his own, just that abstract light
we see on the walls of buildings when we know there’s a morgue

somewhere inside. But all you can do is ignore
the fact that his calendar does not go
into the year after next. You know what’s in store,
and there is little else you can hope to know.
So you’ll hope someone approaches you with a fake smile—
lost, confused, out of town, buttoned-up, smelly, lecherous—
anyone. You will look for a payphone, randomly dial.
You will run after late-night strippers, give them directions.

See them follow you to the letter, go off to strange places,
wander into strange houses, say strange words,
shake people out of their sleep. They will be aggressive,
make things happen—make changes, for better or worse…
Keeping your eyes on the road, you will walk back home,
telling yourself to breathe slower, think of a song.
“Bad news bears,” you’ll sing under your breath, in twelve-tone.
“Who needs theater, anyway?” And: “I love you, John.”

by Anton Yakovlev

Editor’s Note: Grief, regret, desperation, confusion… this poem weaves emotional chaos into narrative through slant rhyme and repeated imagery until the reader is as distraught and lost as the speaker.

Il Connoisseur Sanguinante by Matt Dennison

Il Connoisseur Sanguinante

“Actually,” said Death, pausing to wipe
his bony chin, “I find that I miss the old
method of flavoring. What was it called?”
he asked, rattling fork on finger bones.
“Marvelous aroma, if memory serves,”
he added, glancing hopefully up the
length of table stretched to everlasting.
But on hearing no reply from his ravenous
companions, only the clack of knives
on china, he fell silent. “Unfiltered!”
he cried out, sitting up straight. “Un…filtered,”
he sighed, savoring the word’s invocation
of days gone by. “It was strong, I tell you,
possessed of an imperishable integrity.
It presented a challenge, of sorts;
you felt larger when it was over, pierced
with the incessant rhythm of Earth’s eternal
depth and darkness, unlike this… soup,”
he ended, gesturing at his plate. “Ah, well,”
he sighed as he cracked another rib cage
and speared the soft brown morsels which
he inspected with a wary eye before
popping them into his mouth,
“life goes on.”

by Matt Dennison, first published in The Spoon River Poetry Review.

Editor’s Note: Third person point of view is interesting and rare in poems these days. This narrative is a gruesome delight. Ah, the good old days…

Math Anxiety by Elizabeth Kerlikowske

Math Anxiety

I didn’t want anything to do with zero
The hole in the middle could swallow a life
There had to be at least a one in every answer

I counted to a hundred by 11’s until I divorced my hand
which learned to make the circles on the page
but the presence of absence was overwhelming

If two trains left the station at the same time
traveling in opposite directions
I would be abandoned again

Oh why was the math book splitting us up!

Unreal numbers seemed like memories of my mother
slightly beyond my comprehension
just over that line that divides the problem from the solution

Negative numbers were what dead people turned
and would I someday be older than JFK
and did that last forever
if there were to be a heaven and if I went there?

Children lost their oranges beginning in elementary school
and we just watched them

Jane, Jane, you forgot to count yourself, said Dick

Baby birds fell out of nests
How many are left, children?
Write the number in the space.

I put my head down on my desk
mourning the dead sparrows
their little mouths open and crammed with zero

by Elizabeth Kerlikowske

Editor’s note: The jagged lines and disconnected imagery convey a sense of unbalance that perfectly describes the sensation of anxiety.

From the archives – This World and This One — John Calvin Hughes

 

This World and This One

The house you grew up in
I’ve never seen. The window
you stared out from, the porch
where you kissed your first
boy, the tree you climbed
for spying on your sisters—
Ah! How you stood before
the mirror and brushed your hair
snappy with staticky air, made
faces you wanted to show
the world, the ones you prayed
to hide, the definition of self
you so wanted to erase and rewrite,
the girl with the slipping mask.
And if the house shook off its
moorings and sailed through the black
Ohio night, and if you stood
before the window and watched
the watery world slide by,
well, there you are, pushed
by wind, carried by wave
into the future yet to be written.

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, April 24, 2015 — by John Calvin Hughes

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

Vintage verse – The Dandelion by Vachel Lindsay

1dandelions

The Dandelion

O dandelion, rich and haughty,
King of village flowers!
Each day is coronation time,
You have no humble hours.
I like to see you bring a troop
To beat the blue-grass spears,
To scorn the lawn-mower that would be
Like fate’s triumphant shears.
Your yellow heads are cut away,
It seems your reign is o’er.
By noon you raise a sea of stars
More golden than before.

by Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931)

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

Daffodils (Narcissus jonquilla) by Kathryn Good-Schiff

Daffodils (Narcissus jonquilla)

They had yellow hearts
or a midnight sheen.
Some of them
were seasick green.
They bared fiery teeth,
showed petticoats
or moon-colored wings.

Every winter, Dad and I chose
more from the catalog.
Better than a calendar,
they marked the time
every spring.

On dewy blue mornings
I went out, sliced through
crunch of stem, crammed
all the color I could
into a jar. I brought them
to school, carried them
from class to class, studied them
instead of books.

They had rain inside and out. My life
was so boring. The stalks
leaked and drank where I cut them.
I had no idea how lucky I was.

by Kathryn Good-Schiff

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Twitter: @thndrkat

Editor’s note: The imagery is unique and tactile, but it’s the last line that will make me remember this poem.

Self Portrait With Fruit & Implement by Sara Balsom

Self Portrait With Fruit & Implement

Some things I have I wish I didn’t,
silver plates, soft oranges, birds inert and patient,
the blue dress that’s too blue, the hot aqua sky.
I used to unwrap grapes one at a time
with my tongue and teeth — that is the ugly kind
of joy I have forgotten. In the mirror, whorls
of flesh. Light appears wanting to cross-hatch
and accidentally illuminates everything.
Today, I chide myself for thinking “flesh.”
If you ask me to undress I will undress,
because what else is there to do? talk about it?
I cross my legs and put one hand in my lap.
In this equation, the other hand could hold anything —
silver, or steel. A girl was killed by the sun in a hot room
because she didn’t move. Here is me going from place to place by bus,
and now by train. In this diagram, I am something like alive.
In the room, by the curtain, I stand with one hand on my silver,
and one against my face. The passion fruit I hold
doesn’t fit this pose. Neither does the knife.
If I cut the fruit, the world comes sliding out.

by Sara Balsom

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Editor’s note: The opening line of this poem sets the tone for the surrealistic imagery that carries the other questions forth.

Strong Pastoral by Ed Granger

Strong Pastoral

Field-reek of pig shit, hen shit, any shit
no less pungent for anonymity
as to phylum, genus, species, feces
laurel-strewn by horses adding to it
as they lug the steel disc picturesquely
across brown hills that dip and heave like guts
trodden by men who dampen in man sweat
that trickles into creeks that feed the sea.

Thus from shit and armpits are the seas fed.
And the multitudes who insist on more
and cheaper plus convenience and go forth
to multiply and buy their daily bread.
And the seas return what they’ve been given:
salt-sting and the dead-things stink of heaven.

by Ed Granger

Editor’s Note: Some sonnets do better with slant-rhyme and imperfect meter. The volta at the end of this poem is, however, quite on point.

My Grandmother Becomes a Young Widow by John Riley

My Grandmother Becomes a Young Widow

At the end of the day,
before the late summer’s dust settles
and the new gravestone blues
(it’s not a stone, but I’ll call it one)
in the moon’s glow,
she comes out of the time-trapped
farmhouse and hesitates—
a distant girl, balanced
on the edge of the porch steps
like a fragile-legged horse
at the rim of a quarry—
steps across the river stones
(each one hauled on a mule cart
up from the stream less than a mile away)
spaced around the dirt circle beneath
the limbs of the still-green maple tree.

I want her grief to glow before her, and charm.

But I am a foolish man.
She’s merely slipping out for a smoke.
A dull widow, weary of the mourners,
newly aware, but unconcerned, that it’s possible
to die without consequence.
In her hand the cigarette glows.

The dead never live up to expectations.
I want her life to pass in a world without meridian;
awake to the immensity of a hope to take wing—
to turn and catch a glimpse of me waiting here.
But she is not meant to be recalled.
Is now, and was then, gone.

The wind picks up. She yawns. Grinds
the cigarette’s spark beneath her heel.

by John Riley, first published in Sliver of Stone.

Editor’s Note: The meticulous imagery lends this narrative a contemplative air that draws the reader into the speaker’s emotional context.

Sisyphus Decides by Ciaran Parkes

Sisyphus Decides

Sisyphus decides—why not—
to let go of the stone he’s been rolling
up a hill for what seems like forever.

He falls back, onto the long grass, noticing
the deep groove his stone has made
in the hillside, remembers

how he would always get so far and then
it would somehow slip his grasp, start rolling
back the way it came, to wait for him

at the bottom of the hill. Now it tumbles
over a field he’s never seen before,
getting smaller, disappearing

into the blur of distance. He knows
this is hell he’s in, no doubt of it
with all the treasure here, the brightness

dragged down from the upper world and spread
out like scattered flowers and all the people,
doomed to torment, misery, the loss

of everything they’ve ever loved but still
looking, for the moment, almost cheerful.

by Ciaran Parkes, first published in The Threepenny Review.

Editor’s Note: Three line stanzas carefully control the pace of the narrative, giving a reader a sense of the deliberation of Sisyphus and his fateful decision.