that out of gondar is twelve days
that out of africa is twelve hours
that a thousand people can fit inside a plane
that three hundred people make a town
that once he couldn't own land
that now he doesn't have to
so gondar is bigger than africa
and a plane has more life than a town
and that to own is merely
—Lynn Hoffman, Philadelphia, PA
( for aspiring writers)
"Try talking yourself out of it."—Richard Ford
But, of course, you can't, or won't.
And at night the poem persists
inserting itself into what you write
insisting: write that, write this.
Take down this plea and ignore
that report. Well, don't resist.
Go on and bite. But
for music's sake pare most
of it away. Rewrite, rewrite.
—Diana Der-Hovanessian, Cambridge, MA
on the corner, where king george crosses dizengoff
some days you'll see:
a polished sousaphone standing on the paving bricks,
a cardboard sign in english and kabede.
the sign says: BE GRATEFUL that I DO NOT PLAY
the letters are red, large, careful
beneath them it says: for i have no talent
the letters are black, hasty, bashful.
kabede between the sousaphone and sign
kabede beneath a grass-brimmed hat
kabede smiles and waves,
kabede dances little steps and stutters
a crane with a cello case stops,
grooms his breast-feathers,
presses a frog into kabede's hand
'what would you play if you could?'
'what would be your song?'
'Forgive,' kabede says
'Forgive,' kabede shouts
'Forgive,' the two musicians sing together
as cello strings begin to vibrate,
the sousaphone hums along the pavement
engaging gears take up the chant
forgive forgive forgive
it's all that matters
BE GRATEFUL that I DO NOT PLAY
—Lynn Hoffman, Philadelphia, PA
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
—William Wordsworth, "Composed Upon Westminster Bridge,
September 3, 1802"
No rock or hill or valley do we see
from the confinement of this pleated bowel,
inching toward the portal of our aspirating
plane as if by peristaltic shudders,
penned like hogs for slaughter, herded
through a funk of pickled feet and
jet stink; jostling, muttering.
Hurry. Hurry. Hurry up and wait.
Damn these bridges! Oh, the sonnet I'd
compose if I could stroll the sun-steeped
tarmac and ascend a rolling stairway to
the silver fuselage, as once we did,
when one could pause and wave goodbye,
or spread one's arms to greet the patient sky.
—Arthur Plotnik, Chicago, IL
Early morning, coughing, my son's coughing, the crib pulls me from bed.
Soon we are bundled on the couch, he a small curve of
heat and cotton. He cannot find breath without the presence of my hand
against the mask,
vapors, ravaged metals, enter his throat like rapids fall from fissured stones.
He breathes in chemical bursts, a cold combination that
shakes bronchial branches like a mixed wind—his temporary relief.
I seek mine. I search for metaphor: the open window beside us,
June clover, beaded grass, a wren skids between cirrus curls,
wings bark-brown against emerging blue (Yes, this will do).
The tube that leads from the generator to the mask is clear and lined with pin-prick drops that
skid along this metonymic chain. I cannot see inside my boy.
His lungs I failed to build may be etched with blue vessels,
clotted with a thickly spun glue that repels air and pulse.
What can I do? I hold the mask, careful not to break the seal
as the miniature mechanic of the sky sails down on razor feathers,
slicing clouds as they form, its clever ascent guided by necessity.
He leans into me, slow. His belly, all that living estuary,
fits in my cupped palm. These lungs I failed to build I flood with mist.
—Megan Duffy, Glen Ridge, NJ
Even the upper end of the river believes in the ocean.
I believe in the ocean.
What's not to believe?
150 yards below my door,
horizon high as wainscoting
around an endless room of sky.
When you go down to the beach
the ocean's at eye-level, tame
even with tidal surge and spume,
but if you climb to the top of
Cape Foulweather, the sea rises
higher and higher with each step.
My sister-in-law Agatha Tall Mandan
came from the South Dakota plains
to see if the ocean her brother
sailed on for 29 years was real.
When I drove her over the last hill
on Route 20 down into Newport
she grabbed the car door handle,
hung on for fear of drowning.
Forget about sneaker waves,
neap tides and tsunamis. That huge
wall of water ahead, right here in
Newport, rose up to swallow her.
We'd call her naive, uneducated.
But I say she believes in the ocean.
—Dorothy Blackcrow Mack, Depoe Bay, OR
Death with his robe off is nothing special,
actually somehow kind of pudgy, calcified
beer belly and inscribed areolas the size
of Charon's coins, but he still contorts
like he's got it, does lithe stripper-pole twists
up and down J.J. Leavin's gravestone, which is,
by the way, totally into it; a throbbing obelisk (Dare
I term it 'throbelisk?') so massive
and priapic that you might not notice
anything special about it now, but as the reaper
drags his hipbone across the veiny
marble in this breathless dark, the monument
practically trembles with anticipation,
though it only knows anticipation, cast
in that Grecian almost-kiss and naive
as a virgin. Which, after all, is what
Leavin was, still is, even, enamored
with death enough in life to erect
this love letter—which is just a few contours
short of being a vibrator—for the man
his family would never approve of (To say
nothing of his wife) and letting it tower
over the other tombs is just
something you wouldn't do
if you hadn't pictured Death, at night,
oddly sexy and dancing to the beat
of Don't Fear the Reaper (Tacky, but no one
ever accused J.J. of taste), so it hurts
that this night of consummation
for a romance long forbidden is
doomed, the participants overeager,
fumbling, and Death can see, retinas or no,
that he doesn't have the asshole
to take that prick, so after a few
hours of dry humping and humping
dry the couple parts ways,
Leavin blueballed and Death deflated,
stripper after the show,
passing right by me with nary a nod.
—Stewart Finnegan, Naperville, IL
I talk to the water
because I am shy to God.
I see my enemy in the sand
and aim my weapon.
His soul bends to the heat and light of my scope.
My mind becomes liquid oblivion.
I squeeze the trigger.
My arms ripple like straw-colored streams.
The flag is now the center of my memory.
I run to him and check for intelligence.
A teenage boy
with a poppy blooming from his head,
his body shimmering with innocence.
—Matthew Hamilton, Richmond, VA
The camels of Somalia are white and lap sand like water
as they trundle their burdens between the dark gray grassland
and whatever color eternity is. Their milk is sweet as orange
marmalade. They butcher easily, bleed-out quickly, and their meat
tastes like honey if you cut away the fat for candles that sparkle
and smoke the blackest black smoke. The camels of Somalia stampede
before storms despite the affection of their Gabran handlers, who weather
mile upon mile of wind and grit and weep against the scars on their eyes.
—Danny Earl Simmons, Lebanon, OR