David Berman

Sometimes younger brothers and sisters never stop asking questions.

Walking through a field with my little brother Seth

I pointed to a place where kids had made angels in the snow.
For some reason, I told him that a troop of angels
had been shot and dissolved when they hit the ground.

He asked who had shot them and I said a farmer.

Then we were on the roof of the lake.
The ice looked like a photograph of water.

Why he asked. Why did he shoot them.

I didn't know where I was going with this.

They were on his property, I said.

When it's snowing, the outdoors seem like a room.

Today I traded hellos with my neighbor.
Our voices hung close in the new acoustics.
A room with the walls blasted to shreds and falling.

We returned to our shoveling, working side by side in silence.

But why were they on his property, he asked.

from Actual Air, 1999
Open City Books, New York

Driving to Town Late to Mail a Letter

Robert Bly

Today's is a short poem about the joy of being alone.
(It should be read twice.)

It is a cold and snowy night. The main street is deserted.
The only things moving are swirls of snow.
As I lift the mailbox door, I feel its cold iron.
There is a privacy I love in this snowy night.
Driving around, I will waste more time.

from Silence in the Snowy Fields, 1953
Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, Conn.

In The Well

Andrew Hudgins

A dog fell down a well, and here a boy has to help his father retrieve it.

My father cinched the rope,
a noose around my waist,
and lowered me into
the darkness. I could taste

my fear. It tasted first
of dark, then earth, then rot.
I swung and struck my head
and at that moment got

another then: then blood,
which spiked my mouth with iron.
Hand over hand, my father
dropped me from then to then:

then water. Then wet fur,
which I hugged to my chest.
I shouted. Daddy hauled
the wet rope. I gagged, and pressed

my neighbor's missing dog
against me. I held its death
and rose up to my father.
Then light. Then hands. Then breath.

first published in The Southern Review, 2001
Volume 37, Number 2, Spring 2001

The Poetry of Bad Weather

Debora Greger

Someone had propped a skateboard
by the door of the classroom,
to make quick his escape, come the bell.

For it was February in Florida,
the air of instruction thick with tanning butter.
Why, my students wondered,

did the great dead poets all live north of us?
Was there nothing to do all winter there
but pine for better weather?

Had we a window, the class could keep an eye
on the clock and yet watch the wild plum
nod with the absent grace of the young.

We could study the showy scatter of petals.
We could, for want of a better word, call it “snowy.”
The room filled with stillness, flake by flake.

Only the dull roar of air forced to spend its life indoors
could be heard. Not even the songbird
of a cell phone chirped. Go home,

I wanted to tell the horse on the page.
You know the way, even in snow
gone blue with cold.

from Southwest Review, 2006
Volume 91, Number 1, Page 90

The Green One Over There

Katia Kapovich

My half-brother had dark sad eyes, wheaten hair
and the same gorgeous skin his mother had.
He was cute and smart and innately kind,
unlike me at his age, according to our father.
Five years younger than me,
Tim attracted all the love
my father had frozen in his heart
when I was growing up.
Tim was brought up on my old books.
He did better than I with poetry,
reciting by six some “grownup” verses
which I couldn’t memorize at eleven.
At eight he wrote a poem
at the back of his math exercise book
and forgot about it.
It was a love poem
with an underlined dedication, “To A.”
It so happened that I knew who A was.
The poem read as follows:
“I loved and missed her so much
that I forgot what she looked like,
and when she entered the classroom
in the morning, I did not recognize her.
I did not recognize her long face,
nor her slow neck, nor her skinny hands,
I had completely forgotten her green eyes.”
It was quite a work of art, in my opinion,
but I told him that to sigh about
legs and necks and eyes
was sentimental and girlish.
He listened to me with dry eyes
and then tore out the page and threw it away
into the wastebasket.
He never wrote poetry again, but I did.
At fifteen I wrote a short story
which had some success and was even
published in a teenage literary magazine
called “Asterisks.” It was around that time
that I stopped visiting my dad’s house
after I realized
that everything about this boy
put me down, humiliated me
and filled me with jealousy.
I would meet dad on one condition:
if he wanted to see me,
he had to come to my place
or to stop by at the artsy café,
where my older friend Lena and I
would go after school
to sip strawberry milkshakes.
One day my father
came to my school during class hours
to take me to a hospital: the night before
my half-brother had gotten sick.
We arrived in the middle of the doctor’s rounds.
The waiting area was noisy
and smelled of urine and medication.
Dad had gone inside,
I waited for him to call me in.
Through the door left ajar
I saw a row of iron bunks with striped mattresses.
Tim’s was next to the door.
He lay leaning on a big gray pillow,
a glass of water in his hand.
The doctor wanted him to take a pill,
but he wouldn’t hear of it.
He was willful, obstreperous,
he pushed away the hand of medicine.
“I want that ship, that ship …” he whined.
“What ship?” My father turned pale
and stared at the doctor. “Can’t you see?
The green one, over there!” cried Tim,
inserting his finger in the glass of water
where a green ship, a three-funneled steamer,
was slowly sinking at the time.

From Gogol in Rome, 2004
Salt Publishing

A Man I Knew

Margaret Levine

has a condo

a maid who comes
every other week

kids who won't

are on the dresser
they float forever

like a boat


Kevin Hart

There’s nothing that I really want:
The stars tonight are rich and cold
Above my house that vaguely broods
Upon a path soon lost in dark.

My dinner plate is chipped all round
(It tells me that I’ve changed a lot);
My glass is cracked all down one side
(It shows there is a path for me).

My hands—I rest my head on them.
My eyes—I rest my mind on them.
There’s nothing that I really need
Before I set out on that path.

from Gettysburg Review
Volume 19, Number 3, Autumn 2006, page 470


Ron Koertge *

In this poem, a mother worries --
we think unnecessarily -- about her son.

In the airport bar, I tell my mother not to worry.
No one ever tripped and fell into the San Andreas
Fault. But as she dabs at her dry eyes, I remember
those old movies where the earth does open.

There's always one blonde entomologist, four
deceitful explorers, and a pilot who's good-looking
but not smart enough to take off his leather jacket
in the jungle.

Still, he and Dr. Cutie Bug are the only ones
who survive the spectacular quake because
they spent their time making plans to go back
to the Mid-West and live near his parents

while the others wanted to steal the gold and ivory
then move to Los Angeles where they would rarely
call their mothers and almost never fly home
and when they did for only a few days at a time.

from Geography of the Forehead, 2000
University of Arkansas Press, Fayetteville, Ark.

* pronounced KUR-chee

Thanks For Remembering Us

Dana Gioia

This poet was sent some flowers by mistake.

The flowers sent here by mistake,
signed with a name that no one knew,
are turning bad. What shall we do?
Our neighbor says they're not for her,
and no one has a birthday near.
We should thank someone for the blunder.
Is one of us having an affair?
At first we laugh, and then we wonder.

The iris was the first to die,
enshrouded in its sickly-sweet
and lingering perfume. The roses
fell one petal at a time,
and now the ferns are turning dry.
The room smells like a funeral,
but there they sit, too much at home,
accusing us of some small crime,
like love forgotten, and we can't
throw out a gift we've never owned.

from Daily Horoscope, 1986
Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minn.

Painting a Room

Katia Kapovich

Here on a March day in ‘89
I blanch the ceiling and walls with bluish lime.
Drop cloths and old newspapers hide
the hardwood floors. All my furniture has been sold,
or given away to bohemian friends.
There is nothing to eat but bread and wine.

An immigration visa in my pocket, I paint
the small apartment where I’ve lived for ten years.
Taking a break around 4 p.m.,
I sit on the last chair in the empty kitchen,
smoke a cigarette and wipe my tears
with the sleeve of my old pullover.
I am free from regrets but not from pain.

Ten years of fears, unrequited loves, odd jobs,
of night phone calls. Now they’ve disconnected the line.
I drop the ashes in the sink, pour turpentine
into a jar, stirring with a spatula. My heart throbs
in my right palm when I pick up the brush again.

For ten years the window’s turquoise square
has held my eyes in its simple frame.
Now, face to face with the darkening sky,
what more can I say to the glass but thanks
for being transparent, seamless, wide
and stretching perspective across the size
of the visible.

Then I wash the brushes and turn off the light.
This is my last night before moving abroad.
I lie down on the floor, a rolled-up coat
under my head. This is the last night.
Freedom smells of a freshly painted room,
of wooden floors swept with a willow broom,
and of stale raisin bread.

From Gogol in Rome, 2004
Salt Publishing


Jane Kenyon

This is a poem of gratitude about the simple pleasures of life.
Jane Kenyon died several years ago of cancer.

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

from Otherwise, 1996
Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minn.

Love Poem With Toast

Miller Williams

Some of what we do, we do
to make things happen,
the alarm to wake us up, the coffee to perc,
the car to start.

The rest of what we do, we do
trying to keep something from doing something,
the skin from aging, the hoe from rusting,
the truth from getting out.

With yes and no like the poles of a battery
powering our passage through the days,
we move, as we call it, forward,
wanting to be wanted,
wanting not to lose the rain forest,
wanting the water to boil,
wanting not to have cancer,
wanting to be home by dark,
wanting not to run out of gas,

as each of us wants the other
watching at the end,
as both want not to leave the other alone,
as wanting to love beyond this meat and bone,
we gaze across breakfast and pretend.

from Some Jazz a While: Collected Poems, 1999
University of Illinois Press


Tony Hoagland

Maxine, back from a weekend with her boyfriend,
smiles like a big cat and says
that she's a conjugated verb.
She's been doing the direct object
with a second person pronoun named Phil,
and when she walks into the room,
everybody turns:

some kind of light is coming from her head.
Even the geraniums look curious,
and the bees, if they were here, would buzz
suspiciously around her hair, looking
for the door in her corona.
We're all attracted to the perfume
of fermenting joy,

we've all tried to start a fire,
and one day maybe it will blaze up on its own.
In the meantime, she is the one today among us
most able to bear the idea of her own beauty,
and when we see it, what we do is natural:
we take our burned hands
out of our pockets,
and clap.

from Donkey Gospel, 1998
Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minn.

Cartoon Physics, part 1

Nick Flynn

Today's poem is about the world of cartoons.

Children under, say, ten, shouldn't know
that the universe is ever-expanding,
inexorably pushing into the vacuum, galaxies

swallowed by galaxies, whole

solar systems collapsing, all of it
acted out in silence. At ten we are still learning

the rules of cartoon animation,

that if a man draws a door on a rock
only he can pass through it.
Anyone else who tries

will crash into the rock. Ten-year-olds
should stick with burning houses, car wrecks,
ships going down -- earthbound, tangible

disasters, arenas

where they can be heroes. You can run
back into a burning house, sinking ships

have lifeboats, the trucks will come
with their ladders, if you jump

you will be saved. A child

places her hand on the roof of a schoolbus,
& drives across a city of sand. She knows

the exact spot it will skid, at which point
the bridge will give, who will swim to safety
& who will be pulled under by sharks. She will learn

that if a man runs off the edge of a cliff
he will not fall

until he notices his mistake.

from Some Ether, 2000
Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minn.