Footsie (courtesy of the editor)
Houses In Order
by Philip Levine
In cardboard boxes under the Williamsburg Bridge
a congregation of mature rats founds a new order
based on the oldest religious principle: they eat
whatever they can get their teeth into. By day
they move slowly about their kingdom, some days
so slowly they seem for hours on end to become
holy relics or the stained brown backgrounds
to events foretold in parables to do with
the savor of salt, the mysteries of mustard seeds,
meat, bones, loaves, and fishes. When you look
back they've gone into water or air, they've joined
the falling rain that makes vision so difficult
even for the visionary. The little houses keep
their secrets the way windowless houses always do,
though their walls and roofs proclaim the hour's
holy names--Nike and Converse, Panasonic and Walk-
man--and though they let light leak in through
their teeth-torn ports and darkness out from under
their lids, they're closed to all but the eyes
of the faithful. These dull pilgrims contemplate
the business of gathering and hunting while the day
hangs on and the traffic drones on the bridge above.
Soon the headlights come on, singly or in pairs,
the rain gleams through the taut cables,
no moon rises above the island where now they are
among us, each one doing a morsel of God's work
until their small jaws ache from so much prayer.
From Breath by Philip Levine. Copyright © 2004 by Philip Levine (Knoph).
Reprinted courtesy of the author.
Another Indian Murder
by Adrian C. Louis
Beneath Mt. Rushmore's
heightened air, drunk redskins
were stumbling everywhere
dead but for the deed of dying.
Inside crossed ruins around the town
pallid priests in rich robes lounged
sucking the lobes and loins
of a God they were sure
could never have fathered such action.
Their rosaries can't lighten
the darkness at will
so prone before Jesus
and white history's swill,
I prayed that the Sioux become sober
and quit murdering themselves, their great nation.
But, that bitter December night, the granite shadows
of Lincoln and Washington descended the slopes
and infected all that was good below.
Two Oglala boys with baseball bats
scrambled the brains of a drinking buddy
and when they sobered
they could not recall
how they tried to plug the brain-seeping
holes with Kleenex while they prayed
to the Lord to let him live.
From Blood Thirsty Savages by Adrian C. Louis.
Copyright © 1994 by Time Being Books. Reprinted courtesy of Time Being
The Darkness Call
by Gary Fincke
Between our upstairs room and those
of our neighbors, across the arm's length
of the walkway, my father strung
a clutch of cans because he worked nights
and he needed to know, in case
of emergency, if my mother had
a darkness call. He counted on
the minister and his wife to be
sober the way he didn't trust
the couple downstairs, and those neighbors
had the only phone on our block,
one way to reach the bakery where
he worked an uphill mile away.
The minister's wife helped my mother
down the stairs. I was ready to
be born, about to open my eyes
on the great flash of the A-bomb
from Socorro, I was about to
hear my father sing the miracle
of his brothers all safely home
and to learn war could be won by brains.
Birth was a cord of rattling cans.
In every picture of the first cloud
over northern New Mexico,
my mother clutches that string and knows
my father will take exactly
six minutes to reach where she pants
in the pastor's car, waits for him
to grow large and white, his apron
twisted sideways like a shredding sail.
From Blood Ties: Working-Class Poems by Gary
Fincke. Copyright © 2002 by Time Being Books. Reprinted courtesy of Time
Mothers and Children Only
by Ted Hirschfield
She smelled of apples,
And the sun was entangled,
The sun was lost in her hair,
And that's all I remember . . . .
And I bet she thinks of me
As her first child: after
She had her first child —
Proud Prussian girls
Who never panicked,
Balanced at rest
On one hip, one leg
Outward, patiently watching
The ship leave in silence:
A horror film in slow
Motion on a silent screen.
And they are not screaming
In the broken, stuttering film
As the Russians rape them,
En masse, in rotation,
And empty 800-year-old
Barns of their treasure —
My mother gave the gift
Of life again and handed
Me secretly over to her,
Whose life, for one moment,
Was interchangeable with mine.
And I still feel her now,
Hugging me to herself,
Walking quickly up the ship,
Away with me to freedom.
From German Requiem: Poems of the War and the Atonement of a
Third-Reich Child by Ted Hirschfield. Copyright © 1993 by Time Being
Books. Reprinted courtesy of Time Being Press.
Flax & Brick
by Lynn Strongin
I miss backstage, being with you, the wires we nearly tripped over
Hot light swirling
You were a racer
I was a racer:
Straight up, no chaser.
Lynn Strongin © 2007 with permission from Lynn Strongin
For Lucy, Who Came First
by Marilyn Taylor
She simply settled down in one piece right where she was,
in the sand of a long-vanished lake edge or stream--and died.
—Donald C. Johanson, paleoanthropologist
When I put my hand up to my face
I can trace her heavy jawbone and the sockets
of her eyes under my skin. And in the dark
I sometimes feel her trying to uncurl
from where she sank into mudbound sleep
on that soft and temporary shore
so staggeringly long ago, time
had not yet cut its straight line
through the tangle of the planet,
nor taken up the measured sweep
that stacks the days and seasons
into an ordered past.
But I can feel her stirring
in the core of me, trying to rise up
from the deep hollow where she fell—
wanting to prowl on long callused toes
to see what made that shadow move,
to face the creature in the dark thicket
needing to know if this late-spreading dawn
will bring handfuls of berries, black
as blood, or the sting of snow,
or the steady slap of sand and weed
that wraps itself like fur
around the body.
With permission from Marilyn Taylor, Published in Iris 38 (Winter/Spring
A Child of the Millennium
By Charles Adés Fishman
He's five months old now — a little short
on experience — but if he could speak,
Jake would sit with the Dalai Lama on a red
and golden throne and hold forth on happiness
and compassion on freeing the mind from vengeance
and regret and living in exile from the sacred home:
he's seen the end of days . . . and the beginning.
He doesn't know about race or gender
or that we are murdering the planet that the earth
is smoldering with underground fires and with the bone-
fires of hatred He doesn't know about ethnicity
or religion and will not take with him into the new century
memories of calcined corpses or an interior landscape
peopled with napalmed children.
What Jake is best at has nothing to do with genocide
or the acid tides of history He travels in
where tenderness is a face that brushes his face
He feels the strength of those around him and their love
and time ticks at his wrist like the gentlest rain
are the most translucent lakes, his smiles tiny suns
that shine a clear light on the living..
From Chopin’s Piano by Charles Adés Fishman.
Copyright © 2006 by Time Being Books. Reprinted courtesy of Time Being
by Linda Bierds
When the cow died by the green sapling,
her limp udder splayed on the grass
like something from the sea, we offered
our words in their low calibrations—
which was our fashion—then severed
her horns with a pug-toothed blade
and pounded them out to an amber
transparency, two sheets that became,
in their moth-wing haze, our parlor windows.
They softened our guests with the gauze-light
of the Scriptures, and rendered to us,
on our merriest days, the sensation
of gazing through the feet of a gander.
In time we moved up to the status
of glass—one pane, then two—each
cupping in proof of its purity
a dimple of fault, a form of distortion
enhancing our image. We took the panes
with us from cottage to cottage,
moth-horn and glass, and wedged up
the misfitted gaps with a poultice
of gunny and wax. When woodsmoke
darkened our bricks, we gave
to the windowsills a lacquer
of color—clear blue with a lattice
of yellow: a primary entrance and exit
for light. And often, walking home
from the river and small cheese shop,
we would squint their colors to a sapling
green, and remember the hull
of that early body, the slap of fear
we suffered there, then the little wash
of recovery that is our fashion—how
we stroked to her bones a cadenced droning,
and took back from her absence, our
amber, half-literal method of sight.
From The Ghost Trio by Linda Bierds. Copyright © 1994 by Linda
Bierds. Reprinted courtesy of the author.
Linda Bierds next book Flight:
New and Selected Poems will be out in Oct 2008
Sunday Night at Grandfather's
by Rita Dove
He liked to joke and all of his jokes were practical.
The bent thumb jiggling between two ribs, his
Faked and drunken swoon. We tipped by and
He caught us, grandfather's right, right
Up to the cliff of his pure white
Shirt, real Fruit-of-the-
Loom. We shrieked and
He cackled like
He hated Billy the parakeet, mean as half-baked sin.
He hated church-going women and the radio turned
Up loud. His favorite son, called Billy
Too, had flown the coop although
Each year he visited, each
Time from a different
Then out came the cherry soda and potato chips and pretzels.
Grandma humming hymns and rocking in the back bedroom.
Dad holding Billy out on a thick and bitten finger,
Saying Here: Come on Joe--touch him.
Every Sunday night the same.
Dad's quiet urging and
That laugh: You've
Got to be
From Selected Poems by Rita
Dove. Copyright © 1993 (Vintage). Reprinted courtesy of the author.
This book on
Alameda in the
By Jan Steckel
From Ballena Bay to Crab Cove, pilings, tide lines,
orange-eyed night heron, cluster of sandpipers.
Every picture laid with transparency over
an older island, when the naval base boomed, or earlier,
when beaches swarmed like Coney Island or Roman baths.
Sepia-toned beribboned hats, ankle-length skirts for the surf.
1918. 1908. 1905. Long-dead bathing beauties balance,
boating and swimming. Neptune Beach, Surf Beach Park,
Sunny Cove Baths, Terrace Bath. New-built Painted Ladies
stand house-proud. Nineteenth century: Tall ships
at Grand Street’s foot, masts poking out of the palimpsest.
Just like place-names, pure sound now, hide Spanish meanings:
“Tree-lined Avenue.” “Bay of the Whales.” Surely it’s more
than poppies, snapdragons, marinas, sunset over San Francisco.
These names: “Yacht Club,” “Mariners Square,”
“The South Shore Beach and Tennis Club,” conceal
ascending aspirations, wavelet after rising wave of immigrants
lacquering over squalid beginnings. (We’ll be Americans too,
and rich, when we live in such place names as these.)
Duck and hooded merganser, coot and grebe.
Each bird only the part you can see.
How much is underwater, paddling madly,
just to look serene for one snap of the camera?
Do they lie high or low in the water, like tall ships,
barnacled bottoms silently scraping the pier?
From South Shore lagoon to the Alameda Estuary:
gulls descend on mussel-bound rocks, seaweed-sheathed,
just as slippery before tide-tables were printed here.
Species introduced, species extinct. Landscape changes:
landfills, dredging, tunnels. Posey Tube and Webster Tube.
Park Street Bridge and High Street Bridge.
Hello and goodbye: to draw a bridge
or to photograph a drawbridge.
The poet is a camera, click, click, click.
Get shutter speed right, correct focal length,
and what was hazy leaps into the clear.
First appeared in the Alameda Sun. Winner of the 2007 Jewel
of the Bay Poetry Award. Copyright © 2007 Jan Steckel