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Poets L 

Laux (3) - Levine - Louis

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 Press.

by Dorianne Laux

We were afraid of everything: earthquakes,
strangers, smoke above the canyon, the fire
that would come running and eat up our house,
the Claymore girls, big-boned, rough, razor blades
tucked in their ratted hair. We were terrified

of polio, tuberculosis, being found out, the tent
full of boys two blocks over, the kick ball, the asphalt,
the pain-filled rocks, the glass-littered canyon, the deep
cave gouged in its side, the wheelbarrow crammed
with dirty magazines, beer cans, spit-laced butts.

We were afraid of hands, screen doors slammed
by angry mothers, abandoned cars, their slumped
back seats, the chain-link fence we couldn't climb
fast enough, electrical storms, blackouts, girlfights
behind the pancake house, Original Sin, sidewalk
cracks and the corner crematorium, loose brakes
on the handlebars of our bikes. It came alive

behind our eyes: ant mounds, wasp nests, the bird
half-eaten on the scratchy grass, chained dogs,
the boggy creekbed, the sewer main that fed it,
the game where you had to hold your breath
until you passed out. We were afraid of being

poor, dumb, yelled at, ignored, invisible
as the nuclear dust we were told to wipe from lids
before we opened them in the kitchen,
the fat roll of meat that slid into the pot, sleep,
dreams, the soundless swing of the father's
ringed fist, the mother's face turned away, the wet
bed, anything red, the slow leak, the stain
on the driveway, oily gears
soaking in a shallow pan, busted chairs stuffed
in the rafters of the neighbor's garage, the Chevy's
twisted undersides jacked up on blocks, wrenches
left scattered in the dirt.

It was what we knew best, understood least,
it whipped through our bodies like fire or sleet.
We were lured by the Dumpster behind the liquor store,
fissures in the baked earth, the smell of singed hair,
the brassy hum of high-tension towers, train tracks,
buzzards over a ditch, black widows, the cat
with one eye, the red spot on the back of the skirt,
the fallout shelter's metal door hinged to the rusty
grass, the back way, the wrong path, the night's
wide back, the coiled bedsprings of the sister's
top bunk, the wheezing, the cousin in the next room
tapping on the wall, anything small.

We were afraid of clothesline, curtain rods, the worn
hairbrush, the good-for-nothings we were about to become,
reform school, the long ride to the ocean on the bus,
the man at the back of the bus, the underpass.

We were afraid of fingers of pickleweed crawling
over the embankment, the French Kiss, the profound
silence of dead fish, burning sand, rotting elastic
in the waistbands of our underpants, jellyfish, riptides,
eucalyptus bark unraveling, the pink flesh beneath,
the stink of seaweed, seagulls landing near our feet,
their hateful eyes, their orange-tipped beaks stabbing
the sand, the crumbling edge of the continent we stood on,
waiting to be saved, the endless, wind-driven waves.

Copyright © 2000 by Dorianne Laux, from Smoke. Publisher BOE Editions, Ltd. With permission from Dorianne Laux.

Abschied Symphony
by Dorianne Laux

Someone I love is dying, which is why,
when I turn the key in the ignition
and the radio comes on, sudden and loud,
something by Haydn, a diminishing fugue,
then backed the car out of the parking space
in the underground garage, maneuvering through
the dimly lit tunnels, under low ceilings,
following yellow arrows stenciled at intervals
on grey cement walls and I think of him,
moving slowly through the last
hard dayís of his life, I won't
turn it off, and I can't stop crying.
When I arrive at the tollgate I have to make
myself stop thinking as I dig in my pockets
for the last of my coins, turn to the attendant,
indifferent in his blue smock, his white hair
curling like smoke around his weathered neck,
and say, Thank you, like an idiot, and drive
into the blinding midday light.
Everything is hideously symbolic:
the Chevron truck, its underbelly
spattered with road grit and the sweat
of last nightís rain, the Dumpster
behind the flower shop, sprung lid
pressed down on the dead wedding bouquetsó
even the smell of something simple, coffee
drifting from the open door of a cafť;
and my eyes glaze over, ache in their sockets.
For months now all Iíve wanted is the blessing
of inattention, to move carefully from room to room
in my small house, numb with forgetfulness.
To eat a bowl of cereal and not image him,
drawn thin and pale, unable to swallow.
How not to imagine the tumors
ripening beneath his skin, flesh
I have kissed, stroked with my fingertips,
pressed my belly and breasts against, some nights
so hard I thought I could enter him, open
his back at the spine like a door or a curtain
and slip in like a small fish between his ribs,
nudge the coral of his brain with my lips,
brushing over the blue coils of his bowels
with the fluted silk of my tail.
Death is not romantic. He is dying. That fact
is start and one-dimensional, a black note
on an empty staff. My feet are cold,
but not as cold as his, and I hate this music
that floods the cramped insides
of my car, my head, slowing the world down
with its lurid majesty, transforming
everything I see into stained memorials
to lifeóeven the old Ford ahead of me,
its battered rear end thinned to scallops of rust,
pumping grim shrouds of exhaust
into the shimmering airóeven the tenacious
nasturtiums clinging to a fence, stem and bloom
of the insignificant, music spooling
from their open faces, spilling upward, past
the last rim of the blue and into the back pool
of another galaxy. As if all that emptiness
were a place of benevolence, a destination,
a peace we could rise to.

Copyright © 2000 by Dorianne Laux, from Smoke. Publisher BOE Editions, Ltd. With permission from Dorianne Laux.

by Dorianne Laux

We buried the hummingbird
in his mantle of light, buried
him deep in the loam, one eye
staring into the earth's fiery
core, the other up through
the door in the sky. His needle
beak pointed east, his curled
feet west, and we each touched
our fingertips to his breast
before lifting them up from
the darkness to kiss. And
from our blessed fists we
rained the powdery dirt
down, erasing the folded
wings, the dream-colored
head, tamping the torn grass
with the heels of our hands,
our bare feet, summer almost
over, swaying together on the great
ship of death as clouds sailed by,
blowing our hair and the wind
walked us back to our room.

Copyright © 2007 by Dorianne Laux, from Facts About the Moon.  Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.  With permission from Dorianne Laux.

"If it hangs from the wall"
by Ben Lerner

If it hangs from the wall, itís a painting.
If it rests on the floor, itís a sculpture.
If itís very big or very small, itís
conceptual. If it forms part of the wall,
if it forms part of the floor, itís
architecture. If you have to buy a
ticket, itís modern. If you are already
inside it and you have to pay to get out
of it, itís more modern. If you can be
inside it without paying, itís a trap. If it
moves, itís outmoded. If you have to
look up, itís religious. If you have to
look down, itís realistic. If itís been
sold, itís site-specific. If, in order to see
it, you had to pass through a metal
detector, itís public.

From Angle of Yaw by Ben Lerner, Copyright © 2006 Ben Lerner, Reprinted courtesy of Copper Canyon Press -

"The bird's-eye view..."
by Ben Lerner

The bird's-eye view abstracted from the
bird. Cover me, says the soldier on the
screen, Iím going in. We have the sense
of being convinced, but of what? And by
whom? The public is a hypothetical
hole, a realm of pure disappearance,
from which celestial matter explodes. I
believe I can speak for everyone,
begins the president, when I say
famous last words.

From Angle of Yaw by Ben Lerner, Copyright © 2006 Ben Lerner, Reprinted courtesy of Copper Canyon Press -

"The good and the evil, the beautiful and ugly"
by Ben Lerner

The good and the evil, the beautiful and
ugly, have been assumed under the
rubric of the interesting. Non sequitur
rendered lyric by a retrospective act of
will. Tongue worries tooth. Repetition
worries referent. Non sequitur rendered
will by a retrospective act of lyric.

From Angle of Yaw by Ben Lerner, Copyright © 2006 Ben Lerner, Reprinted courtesy of Copper Canyon Press -


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