Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Poe's Anvil

Poe's Anvil by David Ray 

 At the drive-in theater where they sell junk
on Sundays we saw a man and his wife standing
by a pick-up truck trying to sell his anvil.
It sat up in the truck’s bed— it was black,
heavy, and elegant like a mammoth’s tusk.
And his name was written on it like a signature,
in iron that once ran like ink. His name was Poe.
I talked with him and he recalled briefly
days when his anvil stood outside a shed,
a workshop like a harbor set in a sea
of green tomato fields, and inside
he had a coal fire and a bellows and he watched
the tractor replace mules and the car
replace wagons. He tired of horse-shoes,
wagon wheels and plows, of hitches, harrows,
and lugs, of axles, crankcases and flywheels,
and he sat somewhat amused (and dying, his wife
told us), presiding over the sale of his own
monument, which he wanted someone to go on
hammering on, and in the midday city sun
the theater’s white screen was blank
like a faded quilt or Moby Dick’s stretched skin.

“Poe’s Anvil” by David Ray from Music of Time: Selected and New Poems. © The Backwater Press, 2006.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Mercy

The Mercy by Philip Levine 

The ship that took my mother to Ellis Island
eighty-three years ago was named “The Mercy.”
She remembers trying to eat a banana
without first peeling it and seeing her first orange
in the hands of a young Scot, a seaman
who gave her a bite and wiped her mouth for her
with a red bandana and taught her the word,
“orange,” saying it patiently over and over.
A long autumn voyage, the days darkening
with the black waters calming as night came on,
then nothing as far as her eyes could see and space
without limit rushing off to the corners
of creation. She prayed in Russian and Yiddish
to find her family in New York, prayers
unheard or misunderstood or perhaps ignored
by all the powers that swept the waves of darkness
before she woke, that kept “The Mercy” afloat
while smallpox raged among the passengers
and crew until the dead were buried at sea
with strange prayers in a tongue she could not fathom.
“The Mercy,” I read on the yellowing pages of a book
I located in a windowless room of the library
on 42nd Street, sat thirty-one days
offshore in quarantine before the passengers
disembarked. There a story ends. Other ships
arrived, “Tancred” out of Glasgow, “The Neptune”
registered as Danish, “Umberto IV,”
the list goes on for pages, November gives
way to winter, the sea pounds this alien shore.
Italian miners from Piemonte dig
under towns in western Pennsylvania
only to rediscover the same nightmare
they left at home. A nine-year-old girl travels
all night by train with one suitcase and an orange.
She learns that mercy is something you can eat
again and again while the juice spills over
your chin, you can wipe it away with the back
of your hands and you can never get enough.

"The Mercy” by Philip Levine from The Mercy. © Knopf, 2000.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Monopoly: 1955

Monopoly: 1955 by Barbara Crooker

We start by fanning out the money, colored
like Necco wafers: pink, yellow, mint, gold.
From the first roll of the dice, differences widen:
the royal blues of Boardwalk and Park Place
look down their noses at the grapey immigrants
from Baltic and Mediterranean Avenues.
My grandparents coming from Italy in steerage
measured their gold in olive oil, not bank notes
and deeds. The man in the top hat and tuxedo
always holds the good cards. The rest of us
hope we can pay the Electric Company.
We know there is no such thing as Free Parking,
and Bank Errors are never in our favor.
In the background, Johnny Mathis croons
Chances Are from the cracked vinyl radio.
We played for hours, in those years
before television, on the Formica table,
while my mother coaxed a chicken,
cooking all day on the back burner, to multiply
itself into many meals. The fat rose to the surface,
a roiling ocean of molten gold.

"Monopoly: 1955” by Barbara Crooker from Gold. © Cascade Books, 2013.

ed note: I remember this very well...

Monday, December 28, 2015

Hippos On Holiday

Hippos on Holiday by Billy Collins 

is not really the title of a movie
but if it were I would be sure to see it.
I love their short legs and big heads,
the whole hippo look.
Hundreds of them would frolic
in the mud of a wide, slow-moving river,
and I would eat my popcorn
in the dark of a neighborhood theatre.
When they opened their enormous mouths
lined with big stubby teeth
I would drink my enormous Coke.
I would be both in my seat
and in the water playing with the hippos,
which is the way it is
with a truly great movie.
Only a mean-spirited reviewer
would ask on holiday from what?

“Hippos on Holiday” by Billy Collins from Aimless Love.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Say It by Joyce Sutphen

Say that it is the continuous life
you desire, that one day might stretch into
the next without a seam, without seeming
to move one minute away from the past
or that in passing through whatever comes
you keep coming to the faces you love,
never leaving them entirely behind.
Say that it is simply a wish to waste
time forever, lingering with the friends
you’ve gathered together, a gradual
illumination traveling the spine,
eyes brimming with the moment that is now.
Say that it is the impulse of the soul
to endure forever. Say it again.

“Say It” by Joyce Sutphen from Modern Love & Other Myths. © Red Dragonfly Press, 2015.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Corn Picking 1956

Corn Picking 1956 — Afternoon Break by Tom Hennen

I needed a heavy canvas jacket riding the cold red tractor, air
an ice cube on bare skin. Blue sky over the aspen grove I drove
through on the way back to the field, throttle wide open, the
empty wagon I pulled hitting all the bumps on the dirt road. In
the high branches of the aspens little explosions now and then
sent leaves tumbling and spinning like coins tossed into the air.
The two-row, tractor-mounted corn-picker was waiting at the
end of the corn rows, the wagon behind it heaped so high with
ears of corn their yellow could be seen a mile away. My father,
who ran the picker, was already sitting on the ground, leaning
back against the big rear wheel of the tractor. In that spot out
of the wind we ate ham sandwiches and doughnuts, and drank
hot coffee from a clear Mason jar wrapped in newspaper to
keep it warm. The autumn day had spilled the color gold every-
where: aspen, cornstalks, ears of corn piled high, coffee mixed
with fresh cream, the fur of my dog, Boots, who was sharing
our food. And when my father and I spoke, joking with the
happy dog, we did not know it then, but even the words that
we carelessly dropped were left to shine forever on the bottom
of the clear, cold afternoon.

"Corn Picking 1956 — Afternoon Break” by Tom Hennen from Darkness Sticks to Everything. © Copper Canyon Press, 2013.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Harvesting All Night

Harvesting All Night by Jane Hoogestraat

Twenty years ago, my father stops
in the small farm town where he was a boy
to watch his nephews, already men, play softball.
The long arc of a ball hit toward the far corner
leaves the light behind for a long sigh.
He told us later he wanted to stay that night.
When the harvest is late, the ground too muddy,
the players will wait until the earth freezes, then harvest
all night, the sodium lights of expensive combines
eerie as UFOs on the horizon, ringed by frost stars.
A family cemetery dated 1949 holds now the second
generation after the immigrants, and a few small graves
from the third. It will all last another generation or two,
be tended, that cemetery, the games in the park.
Dvorak visiting in Iowa caught it once,
as it retreated from him, a country that could
not be his, although he called it a new world, and brave.
His largo captures all he would know
of native melody, the indigenous music of the plains
that will outlive everything we’re losing, everything we are.