Volume 61, 2016 Selected Poets and Poems
Please see our Poets tab for home pages of poets, where available.
A week into the renovation it had to be
removed. Then there was just the verge,
an eight-meter drop . . . seven if I landed
on the dining table. The risk, of course, of a false
move: precipitous step backward during
animated conversation, an absent one while
lost in thought . . . wee-hour confusion . . .
More worrisome, as it proved: the beck
of the unbuffered brink—stronger with each
transit of the landing. Resisting the impulse to leap
made me dizzy, and you suspected, erected
a makeshift barrier, reduced my sense of the thing
to the ordinary . . . like your embrace when we
climbed Vulcano, stood at the rim of its crater.
I heard you, darling, when you said
you think too many writers write
in standard meters and choose rhyme
and fixed forms when to use a free
would leave more time for life instead
of working, working all the time
then crashing to a barren bed
and falling precipitately
to sleep as if it were a crime
to try to get some rest at night.
But you have not been hearing me
when I’ve asked you to dim the light
so I might show that I agree—
for writers, dear, are mostly dead
while you and I are not, tonight.
Panama Jack imprinted
on the tortoise-shell frame,
a pair of sunglasses
on the stone bridge
spanning stream and river;
ahead, a groundhog
crosses the path, waddles
like a short, fat dowager.
Is that how I move now?
Once, long ago on a lone
beach in Belize, I bought
a tortoise-shell bracelet
from a local boy who said
his mother made turtle soup
and would I like some?—
Why did I buy the bracelet?
And why didn’t I try the soup?
It was her wide mouth I lived for and the taste of Juicy Fruit.
We won the dance contest and her smiles were all for me.
No doubt about it, I was smashed in love, I was drunk for her,
I was nineteen. So much happening with jail and junior college,
no dreams of the future, just Rosita right now.
A gift never to be repeated, though I had no idea at the time.
Maybe an inkling when I did a little dance step in the grocery aisle—
a Publix in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, the soup aisle.
I knew happiness then in my whole body,
and if I died at the age of 21, like some early European kings,
it was all right because I had lived. I had tapped a force
like lightning. Strong as that. Smell of her
long thick black hair and the taste of her tongue
inseparable from Juicy Fruit. And I knew then,
in spite of all the legal dreck and unfairness, cold steel bars,
the terrible system and the unholy powers of the judge,
I hadn’t been cheated, I hadn’t been cheated at all.
Suddenly everything is possible:
mice giving birth to bats
to mimic pigs with wings,
blue skies in a thunderstorm,
snowflakes falling into snowmen.
Faced with an implacable disease
and an incurable tumor, my friend
says his liver is full of holes—
it is not certain that humor and human
have the same root, but flying
away from death while turning back
to see how close it is following
is like all the other impossibilities
but it is happening, in fact, every day.