Driving home through the fields,
dark dirt roads running from me
like arteries if my heart could beat
for this valley.
The ripening salt loving artichokes,
the lettuce petals, cabbage clumps,
plastic pipes, plastic sheets, and backs,
small backs, broad backs, backs
breaching and diving
through a sea of sun, dust, and leaves.
These backs never straighten.
At the depot locomotives chug
towards them like long suffering slugs.
The sheet metal shacks, cafes,
the river nobody thanks,
the river brown as coffee
and the roads run into the hills,
the roads run into the sky
to perfumed air, air you can hold,
and to sidings, camps,
to faded houses watched by palms,
(from when they thought
they'd found paradise)
to fallen houses watched by bones,
to the husks of trucks, the haunts of condors,
the dirt roads run into my heart like girls
I never asked to dance,
the dirt roads run everywhere
save out of this desolate
these roads run true
if my hands could steady . . .
—Ray Keifetz, Berkeley, CA
as if with some cord :her hand
taking hold, slowly
and the child inside
almost moves --she tugs
kneels closer to the lid
the way a weightlifter
tightens that foothold breath
--the box won't budge, its boards
soften, become weightless
and the moonlight --she pulls
from a riverbed
and under the varnished grain
her fingers dead from thirst
are falling off the Earth
--this thin box erupting into stone
overtaking birds, their wings
set in mountainside and evening
till her hand worn down, breaks
in half --on her knees
sifting the rocks :the children.
—Simon Perchik, East Hampton, NY
Lunch break: they sit around and eat.
You wonder what the hell they do
right here in public, in the street
to earn the bucks—and pensions too—
their unions serve them up for life,
no matter what the hell they do
to soak up taxes. Man and wife
and litter too—they breed like rats.
Their unions set them up for life:
expensive tools and gear, hard hats—
protection—to go underground
and loiter with the other rats.
When their paid goons say what's unsound
should be replaced because it's shot,
your dough and mine flows underground,
whether those bastards work or not.
You watch them sit around and eat,
and tell yourself they should be shot,
right here, in public, in the street.
—Rhina P. Espaillat, Newburyport, MA
When I grow weary traveling this Milky Way
all alone, panic setting in, I go out
to maritime sand or inland gravelly soil,
meander scarab beetle-like among sedges,
praising how they dress themselves in compound
inflorescences, how they perfume ever so subtly
but sweetly the desert air while masking fumes
from the distant oil flare:
Cyperus effusus among ruins of a forgotten
fishing/pearling village; Cuperus laevigatus
lavishing its graces on marshy places;
Scirpus tuberosus filling in margins where
water spills—runners of its creeping
rhizomes dilated in woody tubers.
Perennial herbs assuaging my rage
touched off by the latest tragedy—
earthquake on the remote Tibetan plateau,
children trapped in collapsed schools
while Cyperus rotundus sends its long
slender stolens bearing black tubers and
leaf rosettes along the moist ground.
Sacredness of every day. Graceful,
lilting sisters softening this harsh desert
no human hands built, these sedges
the only mosques in sight, their prostrate
rhizomes kissing the ground, their flowers
in dense heads or glumes the only gold
domes to dominate this airy space.
Back in the city, in the cold sterility of
MegaMart, my eyes smart as I consider
whether I could live on the trigonous nut
of Cyperus conglomerates—spare myself
this weekly trip. Among Cyperaceae,
dance and throw away my original plan?
How could I ever again live apart
from sedges and the song of the desert lark,
urging each creeping rhizome on?
—Dianna Woodcock, Doha, Qatar
I've seen him out there
on days so hot
no-one can walk the bridge over the river
without wanting to jump in;
his arms moving the paddle
as though winching himself
through the water, winding his way
down to their weir and back,
paddles like swans' legs
kicking out underwater.
It's never easy out there;
there are too many dead birds
under the current, and many-armed trees
reaching out to land him
with their wet green leaves.
Small boys drop from the bridge
The first time I saw him un-peel his tie
and lever himself into the wetsuit
like a banana forced back into its skin,
I thought he was only running
away, shushing the computer's hum
to drift idly down the lunchtime
river, eating sandwiches between strokes
on the way: so was puzzled to hear his paddle
bat the water on cold winter days,
when rain falls as though blowing
small flaws into glass; see him
perfectly stalled eight feet
from the weir, picking the right moment,
like a kingfisher naming a fish,
to slide the paddle home
and lock the bullet away. And at dusk,
when car headlights scan the river for signs of life
he is balanced on the weir between the dark
of the night and the fouler dark
of day: crying not today,
my friend, not today; this is how
I hold the water's glitter
like stars in my pocket:
so when I reach for my handkerchief
my fingers will come up wet.
—Ian Mullins, Liverpool, UK
The fashion designer probably named
her skirt pattern calamity
or carnage. How the hemline
gradually rises like a full moon
in the dim field of nocturnal sky.
The thread between her fingers
falls and she imagines mass
suicides, people swan-diving
from skyscrapers. Every stitch
a scandal, an insinuation. Something
shooting through the city like a rumor.
This fear of fabric
makes curios rattle inside cabinets.
Sends her crying from rooms
filled with memories. She pricks
her fingertip with the smallest
needle. Waits for the inevitable,
the blood and the sting.
—Adrian Potter, Minnetonka, MN
I want to say something about the names—
Ahmed, Fuad, Tarek, Toufic—
that are in the news these days—
Yusif, Anwar, Umar, Ismael—
and the way the newscasters have had
to practice pronouncing them. Abdul, Amar, Abu,
Muqtada al-Sadr. Don't you just
love saying, "Muqtada al-Sadr?"
If you lined up all the names and just
said them, one after the other,
it would sound like you were fluent
in Arabic. You could pull one over
on your friends down at the pub:
lubricate your tongue with a few beers,
then turn to Geoff or Bill or Steve, and say,
"Muqtada al-Sadr Ahmed Fuad
Abdul Abu Umar Muhammed," and just
wait for a reaction. Chances are
a painful silence would swallow the pub whole,
because everyone would think you had been praying,
or reciting a poem, or a fatwa, when in fact
all you were doing was saying the names,
just lining them up and one by one
firing off those frighteningly beautiful names.
—Paul Hostovsky, Medfield, MA