Before I Go by Le Hinton

Before I Go

Let me begin again.
.. . . . . .I want to be holy.
.. . . . . .— Terrance Hayes

Gentle me tonight, dear moon.
Let’s sit on this late
summer porch with the stranger.

We’ll open secrets, intimacies
of the heart. Like the childhood impotence
at the stoning of a turtle. DJ wanted

to see the color of its blood. Blow after blow
on his mottled shell. I swear, I heard the poor
thing whimper. And I didn’t even whisper. Stop.

The grad school date with Susan . Her peach-colored sundress
and MFA. The Pat Metheny concert. The walk to her black Honda.
The kiss she silently offered. The fear of overstepping.

My tongue muted, and me closed-mouthed again. There was no
second date or a son with her eyes, a daughter with my nose.
No tiny fist holding my finger. No aisle walks in June.

In this summer cool, maybe we shouldn’t ponder
possibilities that weren’t fleshed, joys that were never
unwrapped, loves not pursued. We only have this moment.

While we are here, let’s dream a little music. You strum
your moon guitar; I’ll play my sax in a minor key.
We’ll listen to the rhythm of my slowing heart.

Yet deep into this porch night, there is still
a wish, a final lyric: to have been a decent father,
a joyous lover, a bodhisattva on the road.

by Le Hinton, forthcoming in Elegies for an Empire

Editor’s Note: Regret is a poison that this poem portrays all too well with short, staccato sentences and careful line breaks. However, as the poem relaxes into the imagery, the sentences lengthen and stretch into joy—an welcome admonishment to the reader.

From the archives – Walking Is Good and Other Things We Tell Ourselves — Luke Evans

Walking Is Good and Other Things We Tell Ourselves

The edge of the asphalt is cracked and crumbling
where he steps on the painted white line, blessing
the wheat and thistle with outstretched palm.

Boys in a car hoot and holler, but he does not
flinch. He envisions leaping onto their trunk, ripping
the door open, and throwing each one into a tree.

A gray finch lies on the roadway. He bumps it
with his shoe. It is like a toy. Its feathers are still soft,
its eyes black with a crystal glint. There is no blood.

He stands in the archway of a mausoleum, presses his ear
to the stone door. A draft whispers secrets of the dead
to the corn spider wrapping a beetle in a silk cocoon.

He sits in the shade of a pine along a cemetery road
thinking about deer ticks and how itchy the grass is
and scrambles away when a car crunches down the lane.

A padlock key lies along the curb. He rolls it
through his fingers, tosses it into the gutter, revels
in the clinks off the grate and the sploosh of the water.

Puffs of clouds court the horizon; he is surrounded.
Unseen space and flighty wisps lord over him
as the sun continues its ceaseless interrogation.

He plucks the head off a wildflower between his knuckles.
It is a giant white ring on his finger, a thousand tiny
blossoms he never could make. He twirls it and twirls it.

A rabbit picks at the gravel before him. It stops as he crunches
closer, perks up. They stare each other down.
It is frozen; he draws closer; its ears twitch; his lips part.

It, too, runs away.

by Luke Evans

from Autumn Sky Poetry Number 18, July 2010

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

We All Rise Eventually by James Diaz

We All Rise Eventually

Everything that matters
comes at you
a little bit at a time
so much rain on a windshield
so much mud on a shoe
no shortcuts
no easy-through
the pain is baked in

And I want to say it’s better that way
but I’m on my knees
and it hurts to breathe
and even still
there are miles calling out to me
more to go
and well, you know
how it is

you think you can’t
but you do

I don’t know about you
but I’ll take it how it lays
and I’ll kick it on up the road
me and mine
and all of the awful is a kinda wonder
in someone’s eyes
I suppose
if you can’t see the glory in stumbling
than the ride you’re on is riding you
things’ll turn around in the dark
in ways you can’t put your hands to

time is that friend who tells no lies
tonight, it’s mirror fight
against the dying light
and try as you might
it’s all there in the skin
written in, stories of pain
songs of shifting road and god is good
I doubt it
but I don’t doubt this:
we’re hard to please even when it’s easy

I’m on my knees tonight
but I’ll rise
and ain’t it always a surprise
how you rise
when you feel wedded to the floor

I’ll take this one wild ride as long as it goes
till I run out of road
and even then, hell, who knows:
maybe dying is just a beginning again.

Again.
Play it again;
right into the ground.
Things turn around.
And you will too. In wonder.
In wonder.

by James Diaz

Twitter: @diaz_james

Editor’s Note: This conversational poem seems deceptively simple, but it mirrors the complexity of life, and more importantly, how important and difficult it can be to choose to live.

From the archives – our lady of perpetual contusions — Nielle Norton Buswell

our lady of perpetual contusions

we couldn’t figure out what she saw in him:
slope-shouldered, slope-hoped,
those hands that hung loose from thick arms,
huge but soft, like loaves of bread but heavy
like something unsaid and sometimes
you’d see them catch and lock in fists
when he looked at her too long, got caught.

and the way he looked at her—
like a man held two inches under
the water’s surface. trouble.

she was maybe lonely, no matter
how busy we kept her, that mind of hers
off fishing, her body sipping coffee
or under a hair dryer or trying on shoes
while her mind floated on hazardous currents
bobbing and drifting downstream.

so they married. a beautiful cake, sugar roses
and ribbons that flowed down the columns.
on top, a bell, a pair of birds.

we watched her reflexes improve.
sometimes her eyes weren’t eyes
but shadows, fast shadows outrunning
what might be a memory. her arms
broke out in fingerprints, every day
she grew more opaque. eight years later
when whatever was in him gave out,

the burial shocked her back to earth, to us.
what was it, what of him was love we had to know.
his hands, her voice sank low, oh, those hands of his.

by Nielle Norton Buswell

from Autumn Sky Poetry Number 18, July 2010

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

Punctuated by Joan Kantor

Punctuated

Mornings elude me.
I don’t come alive till noon,
but today,
rising at 6AM,
I headed to the marsh for a glimpse
of dawn’s most colorful creatures feeding
against a background of burgeoning light.

In the pink tinged mist,
birds had gathered by the hundreds,

a white pelican
separated from its flock,
pairs of cackling sand hill cranes,
lithe ibis, egrets, herons,
black neck stilts robotically walking,
then gracefully taking flight,
skimmers swooping down
to swiftly glide above the surface,
their open beaks scooping water
and leaving liquid trails behind.

The view was a visual hum,
a statement of beauty
and peaceful coexistence
so close to home,

and the coral-winged Roseate Spoonbills
I’d come to see
turned out to be
the exclamation points.

by Joan Kantor

Editor’s Note: Sometimes the sweetest imagery is that which is most needed in difficult times.

Before It’s Not by Carole Greenfield

Before It’s Not

Today I’ve had the opportunity to watch bees
burrow in and out of pale-green hydrangea blooms,
listen to breezes in neighbor oak and maple,
as well as hammer and whine of buzz saws
on a nearby addition going up in place
of two lovely tall trees taken down at summer’s
start. I didn’t realize how much morning
shade they gave ’til they were gone.

I try to notice what I have, what is here
before it’s not. I try to give thanks, practice
humility, manifest appreciation

for the giant oak tree still standing on the corner,
for what’s left of the maple tree behind
my next-door neighbor’s garage,

for each day I waken in a body free
from pain, each day my parents are yet living,
each day I waken to the world.

This I know: bad things that happen
are never ones I dread, but what I never
thought possible.

My husband swung the spade so hard into my finger,
it left a blood blister that lasted for weeks,
a dark splotch, tender to the touch.
Could have been worse. Could have been
the whole finger whacked off.

This I know too: a day with low humidity
in New England is a good day, even though we need
the rain, desperately, it’s still a beautiful morning,

and being able to wake up, brew tea,
step outside to see a goldfinch
perched on a drought-browned echinacea,
digging out seeds for its breakfast, well,
that’s enough for now, maybe even
a little bit more.

by Carole Greenfield

Editor’s Note: This poem’s truth is stated clearly, yet still it seeps into the reader’s mind with gentle steps, making the resolution feel possible.

Swans by Sally Thomas

Swans

All that summer the sun refused to open
On the sky, and the river carried rain-spots
Down and over the weir, and by the footbridge
Swans’ eggs chilled in their nest. I saw them, rained on,
Blue and dead as the moon the clouds were hiding
Every night when I looked to find it. What could
Live, neglected like that? The wind, cold and green
With the smell of the hawthorn flowering, came
Brooding over the fens, but what could it bring me,
Who had chosen to view the world with sadness,
Or had taken that sadness into myself,
Gift and charism? One day, though, I saw them,
Triple vee-wakes on dark tree-printed currents:
One ahead of the others, big and whiter
Than the cloud-pale sky. Two cygnets, gray, living,
Broken free from the death I’d assumed for them.
Well: their ways are not my ways. The next summer,
Walking that same towpath, heavy with a child
Who had come to me after years of asking —
Who was taking his time just then, head downward,
Happy where he was — I saw them paddling
Under the bridge, where it laid out its shadow,
Current-rumpled. The same swans? Or three strangers
Hummed down onto a river pricked with sunlight,
Strange and new as the season? I can’t say now.
I remember the baby’s head engaging,
Heavy, ready, real, an impending pressure.
I remember the wakes widening, river
Flowing down in the sun, and by the footbridge,
Gray, empty, the mess of twigs, leaves, and feathers.

by Sally Thomas

Editor’s Note: Beautiful and concise imagery carries the reader into depression and then back out again as the speaker in this narrative poem makes her own surprising journey from despair to hope.

From the archives – Surgeon Finds Tree Growing in Man’s Lung — Laura Sobbott Ross

Surgeon Finds Tree Growing in Man’s Lung

First there was the cough, then the dream—
a rumbling through his diaphragm, throat dilated,
raw as if scraped with bark, the soft corners
of his mouth splitting like a seed coat.
His sinuses so full of green needles,
his sheets smelled like fir for days.

He began to disdain clouds and blinds,
the pearl colored cave of Russian winter sky.
Here, it was not unusual to lack vitamin D,
but, oh, the craving for sun! How it burned,
as his fingertips tingled and itched for river silt
buried beneath the snow clotted valley.

His cough grew in the humid bog
of his lungs, until he was blotting blood
from his lips, an essence aromatic
as rosemary on the back of his tongue,
despite lozenges of honey and eucalyptus.

Inside his chest, between bruised air sacs,
slashed webs of capillaries, doctors found
a shadow with teeth, a clawing of roots into tissue
lush as peat moss, while he lay at the window,
almost breathless with pain. His eyes transfixed
beyond the amassed evergreen edge, taiga,
tundra, permafrost, whiteness upon whiteness.
Snow clouds heavy with winged seed,
the same air he had once inhaled like a forest.

by Laura Sobbott Ross

from Autumn Sky Poetry Number 18, July 2010

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

Nuzzle Into the World by Martin Willitts Jr.

Nuzzle Into the World

Love has a secret. It cannot be mistaken
for anything else: nuzzling, feeding a horse
some carrots, fresh from the fields.

Grooming, stroking with a brush,
cooling off the horse, talking to it
in a slow, easing-down way.

Love cannot be rushed. It must build over time:
Buttercups littering the uncut fields,
a softness that cannot be fenced in.

Love stares back, eye to eye, never turning away.
There are questions endless as grass.
I wonder if the horse sees the world the same way—

if his world gentles—or if it strains,
tugging a plow—or gallops?
I wonder if the quiet moments enter him, too—

a quiet you can slowly peel
like an apple in one red spiral. A muzzle-in quiet
we all might enter.

I feed you this story like a carrot, feel your
shoulder against me. I brush your hair,
the world slowing to a gentle trot.

Lean into that quiet—soft endless grass,
hum of silence—lean into that.
Feel how quiet the quiet can be.

by Martin Willitts Jr.

Martin on Facebook

Editor’s Note: The imagery of this poem is quiet and contemplative and necessary.

Storm by Greg Watson

Storm

We are staying up late, my young daughter
and I, to watch and listen—sleepy
though we are—to the summer lightning
storm outside, which flashes matchstick quick
and seemingly at random across each
small window of the flimsy French doors.
This light show is far more exhilarating to her
than the storybooks stacked beside us,
which wait patiently until the world
becomes once again calm and ordinary,
in need of retelling, embellishment, magic.
For now, we wait, counting out loud
the seconds between flicker and crash,
the dark shoulders of trees and angled outlines
of rooftops, lit up for a moment, then gone.
When we startle, it is merely with delight.
We do not speak—not now, not today—
of the horrors seeping from the evening news,
the once unimaginable now commonplace,
school children crouched under desks,
their backpacks cradled close, utilized as shields
against a hail of bullets from every direction.
For now, the danger is far less specific.
For now, we are snug and safe in this
boat of a bed, letting the wild wind-swept
currents surrounding us have their say,
our small, indeterminate patch of the universe
throwing off sparks, shifting, nearly breaking
apart, reminding us of what we live within.
When the storm at last seems spent,
I rise to close the curtains, the plastic moon
of a nightlight standing in for the one
we cannot see. Though we know it’s there,
as the stars are still there, and the faraway sun
of tomorrow, like all good things,
and it’s enough—for now, for now—
to rest, at ease in that simple knowing.

by Greg Watson

Editor’s Note: This sweet narrative holds a terrifying fear at the center that the speaker nevertheless must move past, again and again, because hope is the first and last lesson of parenthood.