Vintage verse – Hope is the thing with feathers by Emily Dickinson

Hope is the thing with feathers

“Hope” is the thing with feathers —
That perches in the soul —
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops — at all —

And sweetest — in the Gale — is heard —
And sore must be the storm —
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm —

I’ve heard it in the chillest land —
And on the strangest Sea —
Yet — never — in Extremity,
It asked a crumb — of me.

by Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

The Present by Bruce Guernsey

The Present

For her birthday that year
I bought my mother
a new kind of phone,
the kind she could carry
all over the house
so she wouldn’t be alone
anywhere anymore,

except she couldn’t remember
where she’d left it
most of the time those days
and hurried in her slippers
from one room to the next
only to hear it ringing
somewhere down the hall

and opened the front door
to no one there
or still on the phone
when she finally found it
where she never put it,
the house getting bigger
as she got smaller

but no less busy
than she was before
with us six kids
and my father at work, or war—
that new phone like having us
still around, calling from somewhere,
upstairs or down.

by Bruce Guernsey

Editor’s Note: A long sentence and short lines create a sense of urgency and loss that reflect the subject of the narrator’s worry with great effect.

Dry Bones Dance by D.E. Kern

Dry Bones Dance

In memory of Joel Keen

It’s mile two, and I have an eye on the ice.
I am also slipping into thoughts of my dear,
departed friend—the one who was all limbs
and a great big heart. It is the damnedest

thing. Searching for a bone-dry spot, I am
reminded of his favorite song about a prophet
dancing for the pleasure of God. I recall him
telling me this and thinking it funny, but not

nearly so much as watching him the next
Sunday, bopping the way older men are apt
to do—humerus and metacarpals unhinged
—and entirely comfortable with the idea

there is something more to this than us. He
had this lesson for me and others, us being
the sorts to exchange in the currency of the
mind. We agreed a just deity takes questions;

this being the only gentlemanly thing to do
for one with such an advantage in perspective.
I suppose we shared some skepticism regarding
love too, the way it requires us to punch out

chinks in our own armor. Maybe this is why
you’re on my mind tonight, as I finally gain
the vantage of a bridge that shivers under
the burden of all this Christmas traffic.

The water rolls past unchecked, oblivious
to the demands of a new year I can itemize
far too easily. But the sum of my trouble
is time; it settles with the cold in my bones.

I think perhaps that is why you danced.
There is something entirely logical about
letting go of those things we were never met
to hold. Something utterly courageous shown

when a man taught to stand on ceremony
lies these pretenses down. The muted sun settles
behind a latticework of trees, and I throttle
the truck, content with another lesson learned.

by D.E. Kern

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Editor’s Note: The enjambment from the first stanza to the next reflects the uncertainty of the speaker’s position on the road, and in life.

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