20 January 2017

from Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping

[...] like the pressure of water against your eardrums, and like the sounds you hear in the moment before you faint.

If one should be shown odd fragments arranged on a silver tray and be told, 'That is a splinter from the True Cross, and that is a nail paring dropped by Barabbas, and that is a bit of lint from under the bed where Pilate's wife dreamed her dream,' the very ordinariness of the things would recommend then, Every spirit passing through the world fingers the tangible and mars the mutable, and finally has come to look and not to buy.

I was always reminded of pictures, images, in places where images never were, in marble, in the blue net of veins at my wrists, in the pearled walls of seashells.

It was perhaps only from watching gulls fly like sparks up the face of clouds that dragged rain the length of the lake that I imaged such an enterprise might succeed. Or it was from watching gnats sail out of the grass, or from watching some discarded leaf gleaming at the top of the wind. Ascension seemed at such times a natural law.

She would say I fell asleep, but I did not. I simply let the darkness in the sky become coextensive with the darkness in my skull and bowels and bones. Everything that falls upon the eye is apparition, a sheet dropped over the world's true workings.

The sky above Fingerbone was a floral yellow. A few spindled clouds smoldered and glowed a most unfiery pink. And then the sun flung a long shaft over the mountain, and another, like a long-legged insect bracing itself out of its chrysalis, and then it showed above the black crest, bristly and red and improbable.

[...] and where the world was salt there would be greater need of slaking. For need can blossom into all the compensation it requires. To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow.

The immense water thunked and thudded beneath my head, and I felt that our survival was owed to our slightness, that we danced through ruinous currents as dry leaves do, and were not capsized because the ruin we rode upon was meant for greater things.

And it seemed that for every pitiable crime there was an appalling accident. What with the lake and the railroads, and what with blizzards and floods and barn fires and forest fires and the general availability of shotguns and bear traps and homemade liquor and dynamite, what with the prevalence of loneliness and religion and the rages and ecstasies they induce, and the closeness of families, violence was inevitable. There were any number of fierce old stories, one like another, varying only in the details of avalanche and explosion, too sad to be told to anyone except strangers one was fairly certain not to meet again. For decades this same sheriff had been summoned like a midwife to preside over the beginnings of these stories, their births in ditches and dark places, out of the bloody loins of circumstance.

Cain killed Abel, and the blood cried out from the ground—a story so sad that even God took notice of it. Maybe it was not the sadness of the story, since worse things have happened every minute since that day, but its novelty that He found striking.

One cannot cup one's hand and drink from the rim of any lake without remembering that mothers have drowned in it, lifting their children toward the air, though they must have known as they did that soon enough the deluge would take all the children, too, even if their arms could have held them up.

[...] if you do not resist the cold, but simply relax and accept it, you no longer feel the cold as discomfort.

By some bleak alchemy what had been mere unbeing becomes death when life is mingled with it.

17 January 2017

Jamey Hecht

First Divorce

after Lattimore’s Homer
We live on the flat surface of the world, and compared with a god,
We can do nothing. If the god or the god’s divine messenger
Were to come to Manhattan and approach this parkbench and sit beside me—
And there is plenty of space for him or her and there is no rain—
Then I believe I could do something, as a famous singer does great things
Until he disappoints his people or is killed; or like a preacher
Who works things with his voice, continually greater, till the god
Reaches out and down with hard bereavement and consumes him.
But as it is, my wife, two years ago, left me; I can do nothing.
I quit my job and moved hundreds of miles away and read and wrote
And looked hard at other people’s lives as they tried to do this or that.
I learned from their stories but the inexorable, dangerous warming of the world
Goes on. Now in my speech I call upon the beautiful past, knowing the lines
Come to nothing and are not poetry; and that other men and women
Are left every day by their women and their men, their vows torn open
Like trash into which the raccoons tear, eager to eat of it,
And they wreck the yard and the sidewalk and disown the mess of it;
When they have eaten their fill they return to the trees and are gone,
And behind them the sorry, noisome garbage scatters on the lovely grass.
Order and peace and abundance and joy are the long work
To which young men and women aspire in their early strength,
But madness comes, and the spoiling vermin down the streetlamp;
My wife becomes my ex-wife, and all the bridal veil and dress
And the heaped white lilies of the wedding day somehow dissolve;

Their promise is consumed; the great love dies of smallness and is gone.

03 January 2017

Judith Ortiz Cofer


My dolls have been put away like dead
children in a chest I will carry
with me when I marry.
I reach under my skirt to feel
a satin slip bought for this day. It is soft
as the inside of my thighs. My hair
has been nailed back with my mother’s
black hairpins to my skull. Her hands
stretched my eyes open as she twisted
braids into a tight circle at the nape
of my neck. I am to wash my own clothes
and sheets from this day on, as if
the fluids of my body were poison, as if
the little trickle of blood I believe
travels from my heart to the world were
shameful. Is not the blood of saints and
men in battle beautiful? Do Christ’s hands
not bleed into your eyes from His cross?
At night I hear myself growing and wake
to find my hands drifting of their own will
to soothe skin stretched tight
over my bones,
I am wound like the guts of a clock,
waiting for each hour to release me.
The Magnitude of Silence.

Emilia Phillips

Age of Beauty

This is not an age of beauty,
I say to the Rite-Aid as I pass a knee-high plastic witch
whose speaker-box laugh is tripped by my calf
breaking the invisible line cast by her motion
sensor. My heart believes it is a muscle

of love, so how do I tell it it is a muscle of blood?

This morning, I found myself
awake before my alarm & felt I’d been betrayed

by someone. My sleep is as thin as a paper bill
backed by black bars of coal that iridesce
indigo in the federal reserve of

dreams. Look, I said to the horse’s
head I saw severed & then set on the ground, the soft
tissue of the cheek & crown cleaved with a necropsy
knife until the skull was visible. You look more
horse than the horses

with names & quilted coats in the pasture, grazing unbothered

by your body in pieces, steaming

against the drizzle. You once had a name
that filled your ears like amphitheaters,
that caused an electrical

spark to bead to your brain. My grief was born
in the wrong time, my grief an old soul, grief re-
incarnate. My grief, once a black-winged

beetle. How I find every excuse to indulge it, like a child
given quarters. In the restaurant, eating alone,

instead of interrogating my own
solitude, I’m nearly undone by the old
woman on her own. The window so filthy,

it won’t even reflect her face, which must not be the same
face she sees when she dreams

of herself in the third person.

Hillery Stone

Lexicon for a Simpler Childhood

In those early days I was afraid
my daughter would overhear the word death,
the words stupid or rich startling the dialogue
like blackbucks leaping onto a wheat field.
Then it was sex I hid, suicide,
schizophrenia that took her young uncle
in front of the shed—shotgun, two
strained weeks out of the clinic. Suicide
was my mother’s father hung
at forty-two, stupid the name boiling
from the mean kids on the street,
rich what we disdained in envy, sex
a rush to the end of her brief childhood.
And death,
death was the emptiness I could not bear
for her to know was ahead, the rain
the antelope can smell coming.
Remember when the world still hid
its shadows? When the saiga had not yet died
by the thousands in a single day?
How good it felt before you knew.

31 December 2016

Jennifer Sperry Steinorth

Dear Robber

Robert Frost is hard for me to get 
excited about. Sacrilege you say? 
But I need him now. In order to write— 
don't know what— not sure how. He loved him. 
My father-in-law. Robert Frost. The world 
he wrote about. Educated on site. 
With a drill bit. And know how. I need him 
now. My father-in-law. To tell me how 
to tell my husband I need him now. 
To hold the world we've lost about. The loss 
we love about. I write it down. Nothing. 
Nothing Robert Frost about it. Nothing 
even. Odd love. Nothing Platonic. 
Something catatonic. Maple saplings 
aren't even. Three leaves tall. Leavings. Three 
leaves tall all about the base of the tree. 
Not even saplings yet. Not even 
saplings, yet leafing out. I pull one out 
of the lichen. I loved him. My father—
in-law. I loved him fatly. I loved 
his portly wobble through the forest. 
Gone now. Why I kite about it. A string. 
A white line between hand and flying thing. 
A white line spooling out of a hand 
at the raised end of a body beached. 
A raised body. Reclining. A friend 
I know barely. A friend I know barely 
dressed on this beach has lost her father. 
I take a lover. Rob Frost. Sacrilege 
you say? He took his own life. My husband's 
father. My husband's wife is afraid of— 
what? The drill bit? A robber? The frost? 
What we winter over all summer. 
The hammer and ten penny nails. What is 
written. What it costs.

Charles Wright

21 December 2016

Marie Antoinette, according to Michael Kimball.

Nobody said, "Let them eat cake."

Marie Antoinette was believed to have said, "Let them eat brioche," but it was a fiction.

Zhu Muzhi, president of the China Society for Human Rights Studies, asserts that Rousseau's version is an alteration of a much older anecdote:

An ancient Chinese emperor who, being told that his subjects didn't have enough rice to eat, replied, "Why don't they eat meat?" The phrase was attributed to Emperor Hui of Jin in Zizhi Tongjian.

There were no actual famines during the reign of King Louis XVI and only two incidents of serious bread shortages, which occurred, first in April–May, 1775, a few weeks before the king's coronation—11 June 1775—and again in 1788, the year before the French Revolution. The 1775 shortages led to a series of riots, known as the Flour War, la guerre des farines—a name given at the time of their occurrence—that took place in the northern, eastern, and western parts of France.

Letters from Marie Antoinette to her family in Austria at this time reveal an attitude totally different to the, "Let them eat cake" mentality.

15 December 2016

Sarah Rose Etter

Still Life with Bird Holes

Words for Love — Ted Berrigan

for Sandy
Winter crisp and the brittleness of snow
as like make me tired as not. I go my
myriad ways blundering, bombastic, dragged
by a self that can never be still, pushed
by my surging blood, my reasoning mind.
I am in love with poetry. Every way I turn
this, my weakness, smites me. A glass
of chocolate milk, head of lettuce, dark-
ness of clouds at one o'clock obsess me.
I weep for all of these or laugh.
By day I sleep, an obscurantist, lost
in dreams of lists, compiled by my self
for reassurance. Jackson Pollock René
Rilke Benedict Arnold I watch
my psyche, smile, dream wet dreams, and sigh.
At night, awake, high on poems, or pills
or simple awe that loveliness exists, my lists
flow differently. Of words bright red
and black, and blue. Bosky. Oubliette. Dis-
severed. And O, alas
Time disturbs me. Always minute detail
fills me up. It is 12:10 in New York. In Houston
it is 2 pm. It is time to steal books. It’s
time to go mad. It is the day of the apocalpyse
the year of parrot fever! What am I saying?
Only this. My poems do contain
wilde beestes. I write for my Lady
of the Lake. My god is immense, and lonely
but uncowed. I trust my sanity, and I am proud. If
I sometimes grow weary, and seem still, nevertheless
my heart still loves, will break.

07 December 2016

The Lazy Susan

The lazy Susan, in antiquity, would have been a fire.Drinking all night, the parents never get drunk.This is an ancient brew, with nuts, seeds, fruitto fuel the hours, to light a center.The tea dispenser’s orange light reminds us:they’re in the dining room, laughing in Chinesewhile we play Scrabble or Monopoly out here.They’re telling stories we don’t bother to recordbecause the nights are long. We’ve heard them before.We don’t comprehend the punch lines. They’re tired.They live this way because of us.
We live this way because of them.We don’t comprehend the punch lines. They’re tiredbecause the nights are long. We’ve heard them before,telling stories we don’t bother to record.While we play Scrabble or Monopoly out here,they’re in the dining room, laughing in Chinese.The tea dispenser’s orange light reminds usto fuel the hours, to light a center.This is an ancient brew, with nuts, seeds, fruit.Drinking all night, the parents never get drunk.The lazy Susan, in antiquity, would have been a fire.
— Adrienne Su 

06 December 2016

Second Simone

"He was tall and older, thin like a folding chair, and wearing the shadowed, serious mien of a peasant farming in the background of a Russian film."

"Its edges left thick red imprints on her palms as though she had been rowing against a great wave for her life."

"But Simone would just envelope her in a hug, holding her like a hole holds light."


You whom I could not save 
Listen to me.   
Try to understand this simple speech as I would be ashamed of another.   
I swear, there is in me no wizardry of words.   
I speak to you with silence like a cloud or a tree. 

What strengthened me, for you was lethal.   
You mixed up farewell to an epoch with the beginning of a new one,   
Inspiration of hatred with lyrical beauty;   
Blind force with accomplished shape. 

Here is a valley of shallow Polish rivers. And an immense bridge   
Going into white fog. Here is a broken city;   
And the wind throws the screams of gulls on your grave   
When I am talking with you. 

What is poetry which does not save   
Nations or people?   
A connivance with official lies,   
A song of drunkards whose throats will be cut in a moment,   
Readings for sophomore girls. 
That I wanted good poetry without knowing it,   
That I discovered, late, its salutary aim,   
In this and only this I find salvation. 

They used to pour millet on graves or poppy seeds   
To feed the dead who would come disguised as birds.   
I put this book here for you, who once lived   
So that you should visit us no more.   

Warsaw, 1945

— Czeslaw Milosz 

29 November 2016

from Of Grammatology

There was in fact a first violence to be named. To name, to give names that it will on occasion be forbidden to pronounce, such is the originary violence of language which consists of inscribing within a difference, in clarifying, in suspending the vocative absolute.

— Jacques Derrida

Two Poems

Angela Peñaredondo

Historic Flaws

I am going to the mountains
where the alternating universe of autumn
descends over you at an erotic squat. Out of that blank
and meaningless Play-Doh of my psychic flesh
I am moving on. I am a pupil of fading antiquity.
Sprawled across the table, in a lament about healthcare
and the ineptitude of The System.
Nothing burns quite like The System. It comes at you
when you ask for help, displaying its super-talons
around a clutch of arrows, saying No.
“What deeds could man ever have done
if he had not been enveloped in the dust-cloud
of the unhistorical?” Nietzsche asks this morning
from a small pamphlet on my lap, issued in 1949
in New York City, which I am leaving now,
like a wife from her distant husband
who will not stop to ask her why she is weeping
while she slices apart his silk ties on the floor of the closet.

— Bianca Stone

22 November 2016


I kept after her like a horny redneck drunk on beer in a Greyhound bus passing through Texas.

— Bukowski

08 November 2016

Sonya Huber

Life is Good 1 2 3

1 As if the gain itself, the good, the fat, were the point, as if loss wasn't what tied us to other people and broke apart our fake shimmering shells, as if loss wasn't the true wealth, the shape-shifter. As if this assertion of sunshine would be enough to blot out any depression—and much worse, as if one should therefore be ashamed to have the momentary flash of petulance: life sucks. As if teenage rebellion against life could be ignored out of existence with a smile. As if we could ever understand life—think of that—all of life, and declare it good, in the process stretching the word "good" out far enough to slacken it to the size of the universe; yes, let's make them equal and then we will be safe, take the precision of a narrow field and put in an equal sign so that we don't have to worry anymore. As if you were also in completely union with the reverse insight, the Buddhist om of universal acceptance of all phenomena, enlightenment itself, a roiling hell of death confronted, not captioned with a smiley face. You wear this shirt when faced by cancer, squeezing out the drops of shimmering life from a cup of orange juice, and I get that part, I revere that attention to the particular in the face of the extreme, but isn't that said with a shiver, in a serious font, whispered among loved ones, and not slapped on a bumper sticker? Maybe a smaller type size, and not comic sans. Its goofy joy strikes me as gloating when it appears on your jeep's spare tire, facing me in traffic, or is it a kind of anti-intellectual smugness that claims space for simple joy as if the simple things are the most true? In a way I get this is true, even when not stoned: Dude, cheese; air; teeth. But as if rejecting the complex were any way to live. As if it's almost on purpose that this slogan would stymie me, ease me into a world where over-thinking is extinct. As if in nostalgia for a time that never existed where things were imaginarily simple, where we might imagine we found union through gratitude toward every blessed blade of grass. And yes, I get that too, but secular gratitude also turns on itself, because the spiritual container is too weak, a water balloon, too much of a product, and it easily turns into a corporate appropriation, a shaming where we are required to say thank you, thank you to every boss and hellish moment, be grateful they gave you anything at all. As if any disruption in normal goodness were a lack of appreciation, as if orange juice were all we needed, as if.

which led me to obsess, to research the company (a pair of white Boston brothers, wealthy now from selling t-shirts) and to follow the evolution of the company's slogans, the move after 2010 from poor design to an appropriation of seventies-style graphics, washed-out never-been-there vintage and, of course, Namaste. They, too, sing America. As if I could relax into it for just a second, and then I would understand everything.

in a wind-tunnel of fragility at the edge of the crumbling world.

Aimee Herman

A redhead walks into a bar and orders a drink. 
“Barely iced, please,” she says. “Pulp of ginger. Fourteen cherries and a love note rim.”
The bartender with hair of yellow only partially understands. Hands her a see-through glass, taller than the tallest finger with enough liquid inside to qualify its worth at five dollars.
She pushes it aside and repeats herself.
“Barely ginger,” she says in a sour tone. “Pulp of a love note, please. Fourteen iced cherries and rim.”
The bartender stares.
If she weren’t so thirsty, she’d have noticed that his eyes were the color of Michael Jackson’s birthstone, if he were still alive to claim it. He used to be her favorite singer before. Before. Well, you know before.
“Maybe you can explain to me what flavor you are looking for. Or perhaps let me know the ingredients?” the bartender inquires.
The redhead, whose eyes are a color that cannot be compared to any singer or song for that matter, says, “Rhizome and bamboo. Like what cannot be reached or licked. Winter. Not December 28th or even week three of January. March 9th. Straddling morning and afternoon nap. The most romantic syllable, which has never been pronounced. Oh. And fourteen cherries.”
The bartender tastes irate on his teeth and does not know how to proceed.
So he hands her a glass. This one about as tall as one and a half thumbs pressed together. He begins to touch every bottle saluting him from behind. He removes each cap but leaves all the liquid inside. He stares at her with his Michael Jackson eyes as he slowly touches his heart—or where he learned it lives in his body—and rubs his finger tip over the circular rim. Then, without blinking, feeling the sting of too much air on his cornea, places fourteen cherries—one at a time—into his palm, slowly dropping into the glass.
He waits for her to drink it. Or push it away. Or tell him he is wrong.
The redhead leans over the glass and sticks out her tongue. It is not exactly pink. She carefully licks the rim and then just remains there, as though her tongue is telling her a story with its taste buds. She leaves the cherries alone. And then, walks out.

Brigit Pegeen Kelly


Clams Casino

Escargots à la Bourguignonne

Oysters Rockefeller

Lobster Thermidor

31 July 2016

My Father’s “Norton Introduction to Literature,” Third Edition (1981)

Certain words give him trouble: cannibals, puzzles, sob,
bosom, martyr, deteriorate, shake, astonishes, vexed, ode ... 
These he looks up and studiously annotates in Vietnamese.
Ravish means cướp đoạt; shits is like when you have to đi ỉa;
mourners are those whom we say are full of buồn rầu.
For “even the like precurse of feared events” think báo trước.
Its thin translucent pages are webbed with his marginalia,
graphite ghosts of a living hand, and the notes often sound
just like him: “All depend on how look at thing,” he pencils
after “I first surmised the Horses’ Heads / Were toward Eternity —”
His slanted handwriting is generally small, but firm and clear.
His pencil is a No. 2, his preferred Hi-Liter, arctic blue.
I can see my father trying out the tools of literary analysis.
He identifies the “turning point” of “The Short and Happy Life
of Francis Macomber”; underlines the simile in “Both the old man
and the child stared ahead as if they were awaiting an apparition.”
My father, as he reads, continues to notice relevant passages
and to register significant reactions, but increasingly sorts out
his ideas in English, shaking off those Vietnamese glosses.
1981 was the same year we vượt biển and came to America,
where my father took Intro Lit (“for fun”), Comp Sci (“for job”).
“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” he murmurs
something about the “dark side of life how awful it can be”
as I begin to track silence and signal to a cold source.
Reading Ransom’s “Bells for John Whiteside’s Daughter,”
a poem about a “young girl’s death,” as my father notes,
how could he not have been “vexed at her brown study / 
Lying so primly propped,” since he never properly observed
(I realize this just now) his own daughter’s wake.
Lấy làm ngạc nhiên về is what it means to be astonished.
Her name was Đông Xưa, Ancient Winter, but at home she’s Bebe.
“There was such speed in her little body, / And such lightness
in her footfall, / It is no wonder her brown study / Astonishes
us all.” In the photo of her that hangs in my parents’ house
she is always fourteen months old and staring into the future.
In “reeducation camp” he had to believe she was alive
because my mother on visits “took arms against her shadow.”
Did the memory of those days sweep over him like a leaf storm
from the pages of a forgotten autumn? Lost in the margins,
I’m reading the way I discourage my students from reading.
But this is “how we deal with death,” his black pen replies.
Assume there is a reason for everything, instructs a green asterisk.
Then between pp. 896-97, opened to Stevens’ “Sunday Morning,”
I pick out a newspaper clipping, small as a stamp, an old listing
from the 404-Employment Opps State of Minnesota, and read:
For current job opportunities dial (612) 297-3180. Answered 24 hrs.
When I dial, the automated female voice on the other end
tells me I have reached a non-working number.

-- Hai-Dang Phan