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it was a dream
Lucille Clifton, 1936 - 2010
in which my greater self
rose up before me
accusing me of my life
with her extra finger
whirling in a gyre of rage
at what my days had come to.
what, 
i pleaded with her, could i do,
oh what could i have done?
and she twisted her wild hair
and sparked her wild eyes
and screamed as long as
i could hear her
This.  This.  This.
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Unbidden
Rae Armantrout, 1947
The ghosts swarm.
They speak as one
person. Each
loves you. Each
has left something
undone.

          •

Did the palo verde
blush yellow
all at once?

Today's edges
are so sharp

they might cut
anything that moved.

          •

The way a lost 
word

will come back
unbidden.

You're not interested
in it now,

only
in knowing
where it's been.
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When a Woman Loves a Man
David Lehman, 1948
When she says margarita she means daiquiri.
When she says quixotic she means mercurial.
And when she says, "I'll never speak to you again,"
she means, "Put your arms around me from behind
as I stand disconsolate at the window."

He's supposed to know that.

When a man loves a woman he is in New York and she is in
     Virginia
or he is in Boston, writing, and she is in New York, reading,
or she is wearing a sweater and sunglasses in Balboa Park and he
     is raking leaves in Ithaca
or he is driving to East Hampton and she is standing disconsolate
at the window overlooking the bay
where a regatta of many-colored sails is going on
while he is stuck in traffic on the Long Island Expressway.

When a woman loves a man it is one ten in the morning
she is asleep he is watching the ball scores and eating pretzels
drinking lemonade
and two hours later he wakes up and staggers into bed
where she remains asleep and very warm.

When she says tomorrow she means in three or four weeks.
When she says, "We're talking about me now,"
he stops talking. Her best friend comes over and says,
"Did somebody die?"

When a woman loves a man, they have gone
to swim naked in the stream
on a glorious July day
with the sound of the waterfall like a chuckle
of water rushing over smooth rocks,
and there is nothing alien in the universe.

Ripe apples fall about them.
What else can they do but eat?

When he says, "Ours is a transitional era,"
"that's very original of you," she replies,
dry as the martini he is sipping.

They fight all the time
It's fun
What do I owe you?
Let's start with an apology
Ok, I'm sorry, you dickhead.
A sign is held up saying "Laughter."
It's a silent picture.
"I've been fucked without a kiss," she says,
"and you can quote me on that,"
which sounds great in an English accent.

One year they broke up seven times and threatened to do it
     another nine times.

When a woman loves a man, she wants him to meet her at the
     airport in a foreign country with a jeep.
When a man loves a woman he's there. He doesn't complain that
     she's two hours late
and there's nothing in the refrigerator.

When a woman loves a man, she wants to stay awake.
She's like a child crying
at nightfall because she didn't want the day to end.

When a man loves a woman, he watches her sleep, thinking:
as midnight to the moon is sleep to the beloved.
A thousand fireflies wink at him.
The frogs sound like the string section
of the orchestra warming up.
The stars dangle down like earrings the shape of grapes.
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Ballad
Sonia Sanchez, 1934
	      (after the spanish)


forgive me if i laugh 
you are so sure of love 
you are so young 
and i too old to learn of love.

the rain exploding 
in the air is love 
the grass excreting her 
green wax is love 
and stones remembering 
past steps is love, 
but you. you are too young 
for love 
and i too old.

once. what does it matter 
when or who, i knew 
of love. 
i fixed my body 
under his and went 
to sleep in love 
all trace of me 
was wiped away

forgive me if i smile 
young heiress of a naked dream 
you are so young 
and i too old to learn of love.
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God Went to Beauty School
Cynthia Rylant
He went there to learn how
to give a good perm
and ended up just crazy 
about nails
so He opened up His own shop.
"Nails by Jim" He called it.
He was afraid to call it
Nails by God.
He was sure people would
think He was being
disrespectful and using
His own name in vain
and nobody would tip.
He got into nails, of course,
because He'd always loved
hands--
hands were some of the best things
He'd ever done
and this way He could just
hold one in His
and admire those delicate
bones just above the knuckles,
delicate as birds' wings, 
and after He'd done that
awhile,
He could paint all the nails 
any color He wanted,
then say,
"Beautiful,"
and mean it.
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Me in Paradise
Brenda Shaughnessy, 1970
Oh, to be ready for it, unfucked, ever-fucked.
To have only one critical eye that never
divides a flaw from its lesson.

To play without shame. To be a woman
who feels only the pleasure of being used
and who reanimates the user's

anguished release in a land
for the future to relish, to buy
new tights for, to parade in fishboats.

To scare up hope without fear of hope,
not holding the hole, I will catch
the superbullet in my throat

and feel its astounding force
with admiration. Absorbing its kind
of glory. I must be someone

with very short arms to have lost you,
to be checking the windows
of the pawnshop renting space in my head,

which pounds with all the clarity
of a policeman on my southernmost door.
To wish and not jinx it: to wish

and not fish for it: to wish and forget it.
To ratchet myself up with hot liquid
and find a true surprise.

Prowling the living room for the lightning,
just one more shock,
to bring my slow purity back.

To miss you without being so damn cold
all the time. To hold you without dying otherwise.
To die without losing death as an alternative.

To explode with flesh, without collapse.
To feel sick in my skeleton, in all the serious
confetti of my cells, and know why.

Loving you has made me so scandalously
beautiful. To give myself to everyone but you.
To luck out of you. To make any other mistake.
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homage to my hips
Lucille Clifton, 1936 - 2010

Click the icon above to listen to this audio poem.

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If There Is Something to Desire, 9, 17, 18
Vera Pavlova
9

I broke your heart.
Now barefoot I tread
on shards.


17

Why is the word yes so brief?
It should be
the longest,
the hardest,
so that you could not decide in an instant to say it,
so that upon reflection you could stop
in the middle of saying it.


18

—Sing me The Song of Songs.
—Don't know the words.
—Then sing the notes.
—Don't know the notes.
—Then simply hum.
—Forgot the tune.
—Then press my ear
to your ear
and sing what you hear.
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A Crosstown Breeze
Henry Taylor, 1942

A drift of wind
when August wheeled
brought back to mind
an alfalfa field

where green windrows
bleached down to hay
while storm clouds rose
and rolled our way.

With lighthearted strain
in our pastoral agon
we raced the rain
with baler and wagon,

driving each other
to hold the turn
out of the weather
and into the barn.

A nostalgic pause
claims we saved it all,
but I’ve known the loss
of the lifelong haul;

now gray concrete
and electric light
wear on my feet
and dull my sight.

So I keep asking,
as I stand here,
my cheek still basking
in that trick of air,

would I live that life
if I had the chance,
or is it enough
to have been there once?

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Be Drunk
Charles Baudelaire, 1821 - 1867

You have to be always drunk. That's all there is to it—it's the only way. So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that breaks your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually drunk.

But on what? Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be drunk.

And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of a ditch, in the mournful solitude of your room, you wake again, drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is singing, everything that is speaking. . .ask what time it is and wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: "It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish."

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Ulysses
Lord Alfred Tennyson, 1809 - 1892
It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
Life to the lees. All times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea. I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known--cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honored of them all,--
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains; but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
   This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the scepter and the isle,
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labor, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and through soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centered in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
   There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail;
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me,
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads--you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done, 
Not unbecoming men that strove with gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. 
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A Hand
Jane Hirshfield, 1953
A hand is not four fingers and a thumb.

Nor is it palm and knuckles,
not ligaments or the fat's yellow pillow,
not tendons, star of the wristbone, meander of veins.

A hand is not the thick thatch of its lines
with their infinite dramas,
nor what it has written,
not on the page,
not on the ecstatic body.

Nor is the hand its meadows of holding, of shaping—
not sponge of rising yeast-bread,
not rotor pin's smoothness,
not ink.

The maple's green hands do not cup
the proliferant rain.
What empties itself falls into the place that is open.

A hand turned upward holds only a single, transparent question.

Unanswerable, humming like bees, it rises, swarms, departs.
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The Book of Questions, III
Pablo Neruda, 1904 - 1973
III.


Tell me, is the rose naked
or is that her only dress?

Why do trees conceal
the splendor of their roots?

Who hears the regrets
of the thieving automobile?

Is there anything in the world sadder 
than a train standing in the rain?
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Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
Wallace Stevens, 1879 - 1955

I

Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

II

I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

III

The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

IV

A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

V

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

VI

Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.

VII

O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?

VIII

I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

IX

When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

X

At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.

XI

He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.

XII

The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.

XIII

It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.

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Heat
H. D., 1886 - 1961
O wind, rend open the heat,
cut apart the heat,
rend it to tatters.

Fruit cannot drop
through this thick air--
fruit cannot fall into heat
that presses up and blunts
the points of pears
and rounds the grapes.

Cut the heat--
plough through it,
turning it on either side
of your path.
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Danse Russe
William Carlos Williams, 1883 - 1963
If when my wife is sleeping
and the baby and Kathleen
are sleeping
and the sun is a flame-white disc
in silken mists
above shining trees,-
if I in my north room
dance naked, grotesquely
before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head
and singing softly to myself:
"I am lonely, lonely,
I was born to be lonely,
I am best so!"
If I admire my arms, my face,
my shoulders, flanks, buttocks
against the yellow drawn shades,-

Who shall say I am not
the happy genius of my household?
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The Hug
Thom Gunn, 1929 - 2004

It was your birthday, we had drunk and dined
    Half of the night with our old friend
        Who'd showed us in the end
    To a bed I reached in one drunk stride.
        Already I lay snug,
And drowsy with the wine dozed on one side.

I dozed, I slept. My sleep broke on a hug, 
        Suddenly, from behind, 
In which the full lengths of our bodies pressed:
        Your instep to my heel,
    My shoulder-blades against your chest.
    It was not sex, but I could feel
    The whole strength of your body set,
           Or braced, to mine,
        And locking me to you
    As if we were still twenty-two
    When our grand passion had not yet
        Become familial.
    My quick sleep had deleted all 
    Of intervening time and place.
        I only knew
The stay of your secure firm dry embrace.
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Passage I
Maureen N. McLane
little moth
I do not think you'll escape
this night

I do not think
you'll escape this night
little moth

               *

bees in clover
summer half over
friends without lovers

               *

I bite a carrot
horsefly bites me

               *

I thought it was you
moving through the trees

but it was the trees

I thought it was your finger
grazing my knee

it was the breeze

I thought prayers were rising
to a god alive in my mind

they rose on the wind

I thought I had all the time
and world enough to discover what I should

when it was over

I thought I would always be young
though I knew the years passed

and knowing turned my hair gray

I thought it was a welcome
what I took for a sign—

the sun...the unsymboling sun...

               *

watch the clouds
on any given day
even they don't keep their shape
for more than a minute

sociable shifters
bringing weather from elsewhere
until it's our weather
and we say now it's raining here

               *

Vermont shore lit
by a fugitive sun
who doesn't believe
in a day's redemption

               *

sunset renovation
at the expected hour
but the actual palette
still a surprise

               *

gulls alit on the lake
little white splendors
looking to shit on the dock

               *

little cat
kneading my chest
milkless breasts
take your pleasure
where you can

               *

not that I was alive
but that we were
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Problems with Hurricanes
Victor Hernández Cruz, 1949
A campesino looked at the air
And told me:
With hurricanes it's not the wind
or the noise or the water.
I'll tell you he said:
it's the mangoes, avocados
Green plantains and bananas
flying into town like projectiles.

How would your family
feel if they had to tell
The generations that you
got killed by a flying
Banana.

Death by drowning has honor
If the wind picked you up
and slammed you
Against a mountain boulder
This would not carry shame
But
to suffer a mango smashing
Your skull
or a plantain hitting your
Temple at 70 miles per hour
is the ultimate disgrace.

The campesino takes off his hat—
As a sign of respect
toward the fury of the wind
And says:
Don't worry about the noise
Don't worry about the water
Don't worry about the wind—
If you are going out
beware of mangoes
And all such beautiful
sweet things.
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The Myth of Innocence
Louise Glück, 1943
One summer she goes into the field as usual
stopping for a bit at the pool where she often
looks at herself, to see
if she detects any changes. She sees
the same person, the horrible mantle
of daughterliness still clinging to her.

The sun seems, in the water, very close.
That's my uncle spying again, she thinks—
everything in nature is in some way her relative.
I am never alone, she thinks,
turning the thought into a prayer.
Then death appears, like the answer to a prayer.

No one understands anymore
how beautiful he was. But Persephone remembers.
Also that he embraced her, right there,
with her uncle watching. She remembers
sunlight flashing on his bare arms.

This is the last moment she remembers clearly.
Then the dark god bore her away.

She also remembers, less clearly,
the chilling insight that from this moment
she couldn't live without him again.

The girl who disappears from the pool
will never return. A woman will return,
looking for the girl she was.

She stands by the pool saying, from time to time,
I was abducted, but it sounds
wrong to her, nothing like what she felt.
Then she says, I was not abducted.
Then she says, I offered myself, I wanted
to escape my body. Even, sometimes,
I willed this. But ignorance

cannot will knowledge. Ignorance
wills something imagined, which it believes exists.

All the different nouns—
she says them in rotation.
Death, husband, god, stranger.
Everything sounds so simple, so conventional.
I must have been, she thinks, a simple girl.

She can't remember herself as that person
but she keeps thinking the pool will remember
and explain to her the meaning of her prayer
so she can understand
whether it was answered or not.
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Identity Crisis
F. D. Reeve
He was urged to prepare for success: "You never can tell,
    he was told over and over; "others have made it;
    one dare not presume to predict. You never can tell.	

Who’s Who in America lists the order of cats
    in hunting, fishing, bird-watching, farming,
    domestic service--the dictionary order of cats

who have made it. Those not in the book are beyond the pale.
    Not to succeed in you chosen profession is unthinkable.
    Either you make it or--you’re beyond the pale.

Do you understand?"
                   "No," he shakes his head.
    "Are you ready to forage for freedom?"
                                          "No," he adds,
    "I mean, why is a cat always shaking his head?

Because he’s thinking: who am I? I am not
    only one-ninth of myself. I always am
    all of the selves I have been and will be but am    not."

"The normal cat," I tell him, "soon adjusts
    to others and to changing circumstances;
    he makes his way the way he soon adjusts."

"I can’t," he says, "perhaps because I’m blue,
    big-footed, lop-eared, socially awkward, impotent,
    and I drink too much, whether because I’m blue

or because I like it, who knows. I want to escape
    at five o’clock    into an untouchable world
where the top is the bottom and everyone wants to escape

from the middle, everyone, every day. I mean,
    I have visions of two green eyes rising
    out of the ocean, blinking, knowing what I mean."

"Never mind the picture, repeat after me
    the self’s creed. What he tells you you
    tells me and I repeats. Now, after me:

I love myself, I wish I would live well.
    Your gift of love breaks through my self-defeat.
    All prizes are blue. No cat admits defeat.
The next time that he lives he will live well."
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The Primer
Christina Davis

She said, I love you.

He said, Nothing.


(As if there were just one
of each word and the one
who used it, used it up).


In the history of language
the first obscenity was silence.

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O Me! O Life!
Walt Whitman, 1819 - 1892
O Me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring;   
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish;   
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who  more faithless?)   
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d;   
Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;          
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined;   
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?   
   
                                                        Answer.

That you are here—that life exists, and identity;   
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.
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"What Do Women Want?"
Kim Addonizio, 1954
I want a red dress. 
I want it flimsy and cheap, 
I want it too tight, I want to wear it 
until someone tears it off me. 
I want it sleeveless and backless, 
this dress, so no one has to guess 
what's underneath. I want to walk down
the street past Thrifty's and the hardware store 
with all those keys glittering in the window, 
past Mr. and Mrs. Wong selling day-old 
donuts in their café, past the Guerra brothers 
slinging pigs from the truck and onto the dolly, 
hoisting the slick snouts over their shoulders. 
I want to walk like I'm the only 
woman on earth and I can have my pick. 
I want that red dress bad.
I want it to confirm 
your worst fears about me, 
to show you how little I care about you 
or anything except what 
I want. When I find it, I'll pull that garment 
from its hanger like I'm choosing a body 
to carry me into this world, through 
the birth-cries and the love-cries too, 
and I'll wear it like bones, like skin, 
it'll be the goddamned 
dress they bury me in.
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I measure every Grief I meet (561)
Emily Dickinson, 1830 - 1886
I measure every Grief I meet
With narrow, probing, eyes – 
I wonder if It weighs like Mine – 
Or has an Easier size.

I wonder if They bore it long – 
Or did it just begin – 
I could not tell the Date of Mine – 
It feels so old a pain – 

I wonder if it hurts to live – 
And if They have to try – 
And whether – could They choose between – 
It would not be – to die – 

I note that Some – gone patient long – 
At length, renew their smile –  
An imitation of a Light
That has so little Oil – 

I wonder if when Years have piled –  
Some Thousands – on the Harm –  
That hurt them early – such a lapse
Could give them any Balm –  

Or would they go on aching still
Through Centuries of Nerve – 
Enlightened to a larger Pain –  
In Contrast with the Love –  

The Grieved – are many – I am told –  
There is the various Cause –  
Death – is but one – and comes but once –  
And only nails the eyes –  

There's Grief of Want – and grief of Cold –  
A sort they call "Despair" –  
There's Banishment from native Eyes – 
In sight of Native Air –  

And though I may not guess the kind –  
Correctly – yet to me
A piercing Comfort it affords
In passing Calvary –  

To note the fashions – of the Cross –  
And how they're mostly worn –  
Still fascinated to presume
That Some – are like my own – 
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Reading Moby-Dick at 30,000 Feet
Tony Hoagland, 1953
At this height, Kansas 
is just a concept, 
a checkerboard design of wheat and corn

no larger than the foldout section 
of my neighbor's travel magazine. 
At this stage of the journey

I would estimate the distance 
between myself and my own feelings 
is roughly the same as the mileage

from Seattle to New York, 
so I can lean back into the upholstered interval 
between Muzak and lunch,

a little bored, a little old and strange.
I remember, as a dreamy
backyard kind of kid,

tilting up my head to watch 
those planes engrave the sky 
in lines so steady and so straight

they implied the enormous concentration 
of good men, 
but now my eyes flicker

from the in-flight movie 
to the stewardess's pantyline, 
then back into my book,

where men throw harpoons at something 
much bigger and probably 
better than themselves,

wanting to kill it, 
wanting to see great clouds of blood erupt 
to prove that they exist.

Imagine being born and growing up, 
rushing through the world for sixty years 
at unimaginable speeds.

Imagine a century like a room so large, 
a corridor so long
you could travel for a lifetime

and never find the door, 
until you had forgotten 
that such a thing as doors exist.

Better to be on board the Pequod, 
with a mad one-legged captain 
living for revenge.

Better to feel the salt wind 
spitting in your face, 
to hold your sharpened weapon high,

to see the glisten
of the beast beneath the waves. 
What a relief it would be

to hear someone in the crew 
cry out like a gull, 
Oh Captain, Captain! 
Where are we going now?
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A Dream Within a Dream
Edgar Allan Poe, 1809 - 1849
Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow:
You are not wrong who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand--
How few! yet how they creep 
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep--while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?
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Dangerous for Girls
Connie Voisine
It was the summer of Chandra Levy, disappearing
       from Washington D.C., her lover a Congressman, evasive
              and blow-dried from Modesto, the TV wondering

in every room in America to an image of her tight jeans and piles
       of curls frozen in a studio pose. It was the summer the only 
              woman known as a serial killer, a ten-dollar whore trolling

the plains of central Florida, said she knew she would
       kill again, murder filled her dreams
              and if she walked in the world, it would crack

her open with its awful wings. It was the summer that in Texas, another
       young woman killed her five children, left with too many
              little boys, always pregnant. One Thanksgiving, she tried

to slash her own throat. That summer the Congressman
       lied again about the nature of his relations, or,
              as he said, he couldn't remember if they had sex that last

night he saw her, but there were many anonymous girls that summer,
       there always are, who lower their necks to the stone
              and pray, not to God but to the Virgin, herself once

a young girl, chosen in her room by an archangel.
       Instead of praying, that summer I watched television, reruns of
              a UFO series featuring a melancholic woman detective

who had gotten cancer and was made sterile by aliens. I watched
       infomercials: exercise machines, pasta makers,
              and a product called Nails Again With Henna,

ladies, make your nails steely strong, naturally,
       and then the photograph of Chandra Levy
              would appear again, below a bright red number,

such as 81, to indicate the days she was missing.
       Her mother said, please understand how we're feeling
              when told that the police don't believe she will be found alive,

though they searched the parks and forests
       of the Capitol for the remains and I remembered
              being caught in Tennessee, my tent filled with wind

lifting around me, tornado honey, said the operator when I called
       in fear. The highway barren, I drove to a truck stop where
              maybe a hundred trucks hummed in pale, even rows

like eggs in a carton. Truckers paced in the dining room,
       fatigue in their beards, in their bottomless
              cups of coffee. The store sold handcuffs, dirty

magazines, t-shirts that read, Ass, gas or grass.
       Nobody rides for free, and a bulletin board bore a 
              public notice: Jane Doe, found in a refrigerator box

outside Johnson, TN, her slight measurements and weight.
       The photographs were of her face, not peaceful in death,
              and of her tattoos Born to Run, and J.T. caught in

scrollworks of roses. One winter in Harvard Square, I wandered 
       drunk, my arms full of still warm, stolen laundry, and
              a man said come to my studio and of course I went—

for some girls, our bodies are not immortal so much as
       expendable, we have punished them or wearied
              from dragging them around for so long and so we go

wearing the brilliant plumage of the possibly freed
       by death. Quick on the icy sidewalks, I felt thin and
              fleet, and the night made me feel unique in the eyes

of the stranger. He told me he made sculptures
       of figure skaters, not of the women's bodies,
              but of the air that whipped around them,

a study of negative space,
       which he said was the where-we-were-not
              that made us. Dizzy from beer,

I thought why not step into
       that space? He locked the door behind me.
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Scumble
Rae Armantrout, 1947
What if I were turned on by seemingly innocent words such as
   "scumble," "pinky,"

or "extrapolate?"  

What if I maneuvered conversation in the hope that others would
   pronounce these words?  

Perhaps the excitement would come from the way the other person
   touched them lightly and carelessly with his tongue.  

What if "of" were such a hot button?

"Scumble of bushes."

What if there were a hidden pleasure
in calling one thing
by another’s name?
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This Is Just To Say
William Carlos Williams, 1883 - 1963
I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold
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Alone
Maya Angelou, 1928 - 2014
Lying, thinking
Last night
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don't believe I'm wrong
That nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

There are some millionaires
With money they can't use
Their wives run round like banshees
Their children sing the blues
They've got expensive doctors
To cure their hearts of stone.
But nobody
No, nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Now if you listen closely
I'll tell you what I know
Storm clouds are gathering
The wind is gonna blow
The race of man is suffering
And I can hear the moan,
'Cause nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.
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Whoever You Are Holding Me Now in Hand
Walt Whitman, 1819 - 1892
Whoever you are, holding me now in hand,   
Without one thing, all will be useless,   
I give you fair warning, before you attempt me further,   
I am not what you supposed, but far different.   
   
Who is he that would become my follower? 
Who would sign himself a candidate for my affections?   
   
The way is suspicious—the result uncertain, perhaps
     destructive;   
You would have to give up all else—I alone would expect
     to be your God, sole and exclusive,   
Your novitiate would even then be long and exhausting,   
The whole past theory of your life, and all conformity to the
     lives around you, would have to be abandon'd;
Therefore release me now, before troubling yourself any further—
     Let go your hand from my shoulders,   
Put me down, and depart on your way.   
   
Or else, by stealth, in some wood, for trial,   
Or back of a rock, in the open air,   
(For in any roof'd room of a house I emerge not—nor
     in company, 
And in libraries I lie as one dumb, a gawk, or unborn, or
     dead,)   
But just possibly with you on a high hill—first watching
     lest any person, for miles around, approach unawares,   
Or possibly with you sailing at sea, or on the beach of the sea,
     or some quiet island,   
Here to put your lips upon mine I permit you,   
With the comrade's long-dwelling kiss, or the new husband's kiss, 
For I am the new husband, and I am the comrade.   
   
Or, if you will, thrusting me beneath your clothing,   
Where I may feel the throbs of your heart, or rest upon your hip,   
Carry me when you go forth over land or sea;   
For thus, merely touching you, is enough—is best,
And thus, touching you, would I silently sleep and be carried
     eternally.   
   
But these leaves conning, you con at peril,   
For these leaves, and me, you will not understand,   
They will elude you at first, and still more afterward—I will
     certainly elude you,   
Even while you should think you had unquestionably caught me, behold!
Already you see I have escaped from you.   
   
For it is not for what I have put into it that I have written
     this book,   
Nor is it by reading it you will acquire it,   
Nor do those know me best who admire me, and vauntingly praise me,   
Nor will the candidates for my love, (unless at most a very few,)
     prove victorious,
Nor will my poems do good only—they will do just as much evil,
     perhaps more;   
For all is useless without that which you may guess at many times
     and not hit—that which I hinted at;   
Therefore release me, and depart on your way.
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A Love Song
William Carlos Williams, 1883 - 1963
What have I to say to you
When we shall meet?
Yet—
I lie here thinking of you.

The stain of love
Is upon the world.
Yellow, yellow, yellow,
It eats into the leaves,
Smears with saffron
The horned branches that lean
Heavily
Against a smooth purple sky.

There is no light—
Only a honey-thick stain
That drips from leaf to leaf
And limb to limb
Spoiling the colours
Of the whole world.

I am alone.
The weight of love
Has buoyed me up
Till my head
Knocks against the sky.

See me!
My hair is dripping with nectar—
Starlings carry it
On their black wings.
See, at last
My arms and my hands
Are lying idle.

How can I tell
If I shall ever love you again
As I do now?
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To Earthward
Robert Frost, 1874 - 1963
Love at the lips was touch
As sweet as I could bear;
And once that seemed too much;
I lived on air

That crossed me from sweet things,
The flow of--was it musk
From hidden grapevine springs
Downhill at dusk?

I had the swirl and ache
From sprays of honeysuckle
That when they're gathered shake
Dew on the knuckle.

I craved strong sweets, but those
Seemed strong when I was young;
The petal of the rose
It was that stung.

Now no joy but lacks salt,
That is not dashed with pain
And weariness and fault;
I crave the stain

Of tears, the aftermark
Of almost too much love,
The sweet of bitter bark
And burning clove.

When stiff and sore and scarred
I take away my hand
From leaning on it hard
In grass and sand,

The hurt is not enough:
I long for weight and strength
To feel the earth as rough
To all my length. 
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The More Loving One
W. H. Auden, 1907 - 1973
Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.
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The Edge of the World [excerpt]
Adonis, 1930
      I release the earth and I imprison the skies.  I fall down in order to stay faithful to 
the light, in order to make the world ambiguous, fascinating, changeable, dangerous, in 
order to announce the steps beyond.
     The blood of the gods is still fresh on my clothes.  A seagull's scream echoes 
through my pages.  Let me just pack up my words and leave.
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Failing and Flying
Jack Gilbert, 1925 - 2012

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It's the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.

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Weary Rings
César Vallejo, 1892 - 1938
     There are desires to return, to love, to not disappear, 
and there are desires to die, fought by two 
opposing waters that have never isthmused.
 
     There are desires for a great kiss that would shroud Life,
one that ends in the Africa of a fiery agony, 
a suicide! 

     There are desires to. . .have no desires, Lord; 
I point my deicidal finger at you: 
there are desires to not have had a heart. 

     Spring returns, returns and will depart. And God, 
bent in time, repeats himself, and passes, passes 
with the spinal column of the Universe on his back. 

     When my temples beat their lugubrious drum, 
when the dream engraved on a dagger aches me, 
there are desires to be left standing in this verse!
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I Am Not Yours
Sara Teasdale, 1884 - 1933
I am not yours, not lost in you,
Not lost, although I long to be
Lost as a candle lit at noon,
Lost as a snowflake in the sea.

You love me, and I find you still
A spirit beautiful and bright,
Yet I am I, who long to be
Lost as a light is lost in light.

Oh plunge me deep in love—put out
My senses, leave me deaf and blind,
Swept by the tempest of your love,
A taper in a rushing wind.
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Never give all the heart
W. B. Yeats, 1865 - 1939

Never give all the heart, for love
Will hardly seem worth thinking of
To passionate women if it seem
Certain, and they never dream
That it fades out from kiss to kiss;
For everything that's lovely is
But a brief, dreamy, kind delight.
O never give the heart outright,
For they, for all smooth lips can say,
Have given their hearts up to the play.
And who could play it well enough
If deaf and dumb and blind with love?
He that made this knows all the cost,
For he gave all his heart and lost.

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"Now, I know you remember so and so"
Doris Davenport
meaning somebody who rode through town once, ten
years ago or who lived and died before your birth. They
expect you to remember, to know, just like your mind is
their mind and if you don't, they might take it personal.
Get so made at you, they can't get on with the story.

Not like Fannie Mae. She will get all into a story and
catch herself: "But that was before you
were born." Fannie Mae will pause, grin for emphasis
and say, "And I wish you
coulda seen it!"

not me.
when i get through
when i'm done
won't be no wishing
you could see.
you gone       see.
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Two, Three
Rae Armantrout, 1947
Sad, fat boy in pirate hat.
Long, old, dented,
copper-colored Ford.

How many traits
must a thing have
in order to be singular?

(Echo persuades us
everything we say
has been said at least once 
                                        before.)

Two plump, bald men
in gray tee-shirts
and tan shorts 

are walking a small bulldog –
followed by the eyes
of an invisible third person.

The Trinity was born
from what we know
of the bitter 

symbiosis of couples.
Can we reduce echo’s sadness
by synchronizing our speeches?

Is it the beginning or end
of real love
when we pity a person

because, in him,
we see ourselves?