Category Archives: Poetry

Poem for Cafe Tazza

We gather at the shores
of black waters
lapping ceramic cup rims,
in perfect knowledge
that all god wants
is someone to talk to.

He sits there, in the third chair,
newspaper folded back and ignored,
because there is laughter to be made
and tears to be shed,
with this small gathering of people.

God doesn’t have coin
for this pleasure,
but knows this is a test.
And he smiles,
as everyone scrambles
through purses and pockets.
And loose change is collected
and contributed to his espresso
and bagel.

If this space would allow it,
God would build a fire,
to keep us warm
from the chill of our words.
“Silly, lovable humans.
I created you perfectly,”
he thinks to himself,
then goes, ready
to conduct his day.


Read and listen to more of Kenneth Gurney’s Poetry at http://www.kpgurney.me/Poet/Welcome.html.

Shedding Centuries

She is the blue woman,
holding her breath,
                holding teardrops,
stroking the pearls
of her earrings,
searching for the right words
to return something.

Under her left arm,
a jar, that holds the river
where our war horses once drank.
        Terra cotta that contains
the answer for any thirst.

It is not the jar she has for you,
or for me, but for herself.
For the questions caught
on her dry tongue.

In her silence, the blue woman stands,
waiting an hour, before passing
a hand under her shirt,
        beside her breast.
A hand that removes the rib
she never wanted.

The blue woman holds the rib out to you.
Your hand never rises to meet hers,
is not there when she releases the rib
        and it clatters to stony ground.

But to prove her love for you,
                she offers you the jar
that holds the river.


“Shedding Centuries” was first published in the Adirondack Review

Read and listen to more of Kenneth Gurney’s Poetry at http://www.kpgurney.me/Poet/Welcome.html.

Rhea

When she was fifteen, my sister broke her neck.
She was gone all night, out of the juvie
only a few days before, up on Monte Sano
watching the sun come up with some boy.

She was hugging herself, quiet, wounded
from god knows what and dragging on her last cigarette.
She was plain high and loving it, the way
they’d keep talking about climbing the WAFF tower

together as plane lights disappeared through fog
and mountain headed north or south toward Nashville
or Atlanta. Rhea. I don’t think my parents thought
of her as rising like a green shoot from this earth.

Rhea, the spelling borrowed from the middle name
of a fraternity brother of our father’s. Rhea,
who thought sacrifice became her and fed Kronos
stone loaves so that Zeus might live and overthrow

his father who, pawn to some greater god’s game,
overthrew Uranus. And yet from where she tests
the cliff’s edge, from where she will jump, black out,
or slip, Rhea stands to live perfectly upright

another twenty-odd years with her story’s violent luck:
the rock seventeen feet below she will hit face first,
the terrible going on of the first groans
like a prayer sent up from down the road

where the sunrise service has gotten started,
where a phone is surely at, where no one knows
to listen to the blood swallow and spit,
to feel the sun lightly, lightly, rise up her face.

Homer-Erotic

When I first heard the word “homoerotic”
we were learning the Iliad in class,
so naturally I heard “Homer-erotic,”
which, given the number of men
stationed in one place for a decade with not much to do,
made perfect sense to me.

Pleased with this sharp-edged word, I hoisted it
like a javelin, pointed it at my friends,
made jabs at parties hosted by smart people.
“O, that’s entirely Homer-erotic,”
I would say into the profound pauses
I understood to be the requisite awe.

I patiently explained to my girlfriend how
being Homer-erotic was different
than being gay, which was a whole separate deal,
and that this love was the epic love of friends,
the bond beyond beers. This was marrow love,
forearm-clasping love, I’d-play-on-your-team love.

Because theory is no good without practice,
I brought my spear to the bar where Bud Light
camps outside the walls of Miller, where men,
without irony, wear the jerseys and numbers
of other men, just like the girls in high school
who dated and fawned over the football players.

A man among men, I duly sacrificed
hecatombs of peanuts and buffalo wings,
watched giants gaze up at the Olympian
big-screen and seize their neighbor’s hands, “Brother,
our team will not fail this dawn, and if they do,
let the earth yawn and swallow me in shame.”

Muses, who were the manly lords and officers?
Dick, raider-of-refrigerators was there,
and seated next to him was Frank, son of Ronald —
they loved the waitress with her tits that launched
a thousand ships, but they’d been dishonored at home,
where the slaves weren’t as grateful as they should be.

I’m embarrassed to say when I first learned
of my error, of “homoerotic”
as reality, but let’s just say that men
had already packed and made it home from Troy
while I was the last one standing, and not
because I’d won the Homeric spelling bee.

Once it was gone I wanted my word back.
I miss you Agamemnon, dick that you were.
I miss the big cry baby, Achilles,
as well. I miss the Homer-erotic
annunciation of men who offend fickle gods
and mispronounce all that they’ve heard with pride.

Now, I sit as quiet as a bowl in a china shop. 
I beg the gods for an escape goat
because not knowing the score is cutting your nose,
despite your face. Make no mistake —
when you say it right, “homo” makes the men see
red, ill-fated pigment of the imagination.


“Homer-Erotic” also appears in The Ledge.

Chuck Rybak’s first chapbook, “Nickel and Diming My Way Through” won the Quentin R. Howard prize. His second chapbook, “Liketown,” was published by Pudding House Publications. Rybak’s first full-length collection, “Tongue and Groove,” was released by Main Street Rag.

Atlas on the Stairs

When we plucked the table from the curbside trash,
one you eyed and imagined
in the corner of a sun-lit room, you asked,
Will you carry this? I can’t
deny that soon my neck burned and thin arms shook,
that I counted the steps of labor and longed
for the level of your landing.

Wedged in the doorframe,
the wide, round top too perfect
for finessing angles. We paused,
weighed leaving it for the night
in the hall, as if we’d dream
an elegant plan to turn it through,
a pajama callisthenic
between breakfast and the Sunday paper.
The thought of its wholeness left outside
troubled me, proof of failed hospitality
and checked intention – better to live
in pieces, with the tools in our hands.

I passed the screws to you, the single legs,
the table’s weight transferring between us.
You looked beyond my shoulder
as I rolled the tabletop through the door,
searching for an ex-husband who might hide
in the way I stand, turn a phrase, or pour coffee.
The past is everyone’s gorgon: the head of snakes
turning us to stone, the hiss that lines our lives
with statues. I looked back as well,

hoping I hadn’t brought him there,
that we wouldn’t petrify and hold
the world of another above our heads.
The ruined table spread across
the warm, hardwood floor. Let’s not wait.
Let’s piece it together, starting now.


Chuck Rybak’s first chapbook, “Nickel and Diming My Way Through” won the Quentin R. Howard prize. His second chapbook, “Liketown,” was published by Pudding House Publications. Rybak’s first full-length collection, “Tongue and Groove,” was released by Main Street Rag.

Penelope

Husband, I cry you to me, call and conjure!
Use this moon, this silvered saucer of a moon
to bring you home.
You are away too long.

Husband, I call you
in the speech of young birds.
Their cry mine, their need for air,
for soaring flight, mine, their vision mine,
to skry you clear.

There are wonders afoot, marvels I tell you!
The good triumphs finally,
the time of strife and terror over, gone.
It is impossible to say more, only come!

You, who are fluent
in the language of rivers and sky.
You, born to champion the earth,
heal all small and injured things.

The garden grieves, missing your tending.
the horses, yard animals look through me
as I am a ghost, watch for your return.
Their joy tells me you are close.

See these nets I have knit,
these garments sewn?
My work is done.

Celebrate again with me our wedding day.
We are hand fasted, bound and sworn.
Ancestors known and unknown stand with us,
urge us to each other, bless our bond.

Through the seven webs of existence,
our tangled, troubled lives are joined.
The weft of our love winds,
treadles move, shuttles fly, patterns form.

We contemplate complexity.
They will say my life
was an accommodation to yours.
Sometimes that does seem so,
small truths often difficult to discern.

What we endure for each other
goes without saying,
what we want from each other
not always clear.
What I want from you is what I give,
nothing more.

And if this life is apocrypha, foretold, foreordained, no possibility of change?
Still it must be lived,
The Weaver deems it so.

But I am done with undoing,
now only crave simplicity.

Husband, stay long before you leave again,
long enough for good reports of you to go out
to the surrounding towns,
our children learn to know you.
Let strong loyalties be forged.

Long enough for new fields to be planted,
harvests and holy days, the next weavings begun.

There is only this in life, to exercise one’s will.
Claim what you belong to,
rule what belongs to you.

Then come when I cry you here again.


Previously published in Central Avenue

Read more of Dale Harris’ poetry at http://www.daleharrispoetry.com
Get her poetry & music CDs and hear more poems at http://www.cdbaby.com/all/daleharris

Venus Examines Her Breast

She’s pissed at all the minor milk ducts
flaring in her one remaining breast. Oh
shit, she says, and sets her chin
as ages flip in mock somnambulism, too
lean of mind to expect much from a goddess.
Oh stadiums of light, oh babble.
Aspiration takes seconds, the lump
a syringe of cloudy lemon soup. Look,
says the Doc, Now aren’t we a happy camper?
Venus packs her tools for Rome where
everything is so expensive yet familiar.
She poses and sculpts in turn, naked
as a snake-shaped scar, chipping slowly
at 17th century stone. Nothing
gets better than this, she thinks: Nipple,
lymph glands, bowling arm flexed
to capacity. I can shift out of first!
Making love, she reminds herself to stay
anchored in the mirrored now. You’re
gorgeous, she says, flushing, leaning in.


Read “Fickle Myths,” three linked stories by Maureen Seaton and Neil de la Flor

See Maureen Seaton’s art, poetry and an interview at http://www.scene360.com/STORYboard_interview_seaton.html
“Venus Examines Her Breast” is available from Carnegie Mellon University Press at http://www.cmu.edu/universitypress

Pele

Here is the buzz, the lament, the horror of overturned hazmats
            and all the trickling fear
and yet July 4th comes to Albuquerque the same way it comes
            to Chicago, and the women

cook pigs and hens and everywhere, the smell of slaughter.

As if they might slip off Acoma and be caught by a Franciscan
            priest which would make
them lucky citizens and him a hero.

Sarah thought as they approached the table’s edge munching fry
            bread and pumpkin cookies:

There is the bone goddess and the corn goddess and the goddess
            who dwells on the mesa.

She tried to find the volcanoes but kept not finding them as they
            would mirage
then disappear as she got close.

The earth flumes and speeds, moves in a glut of non-ego, non-
            movied beauty.

Rinconada, Boca Negra, the glass dump at the base of the volcanoes
where bats kept missing them in the near-dark.

Elmer said anger is a waste of time, it only made him hoarse in 1970,
            Alcatraz,
when he was brave and young.

He said that if America hadn’t used Navajo in WWII we’d all be
            speaking Japanese right
now and added it was a good thing we dropped the bombs.

She wondered if he might be testing her,
or if his anger had turned to fossil and mummy and petroglyph.

Her body sweat in unusual places, cant and vinegar, that poison
            what’s-its-name.

Wherever she walked: lava.


Read “Fickle Myths,” three linked stories by Maureen Seaton and Neil de la Flor

See Maureen Seaton’s art, poetry and an interview at http://www.scene360.com/STORYboard_interview_seaton.html
“Venus Examines Her Breast” is available from Carnegie Mellon University Press at http://www.cmu.edu/universitypress

Thoreau’s Last Hunt

“…our life should be lived as tenderly and daintily
as one would pluck a flower.” — Thoreau

Of course he retches,
approaching the moose
cow his party shot
and felled, her unborn calf
dying with her, blood pooling
with her milk on the forest floor.
Of course his thoughts turn
to a pretty flower
clutched in a girlish fist, or
— better — held gently, not to bruise
the wilting thing. So small a hurt,
so little chance the earth will open up
and she be dragged down
by the hair, the flower dropped
and trampled, earth grieving
for the loss of what was loved.
Never can we do no harm, only try to
do a little less, so pinch the stem
at the base, where it gives the most
satisfying snap, and pluck
the flower — ah,
tenderly, tenderly, this
tenderness is the last
violence left to us.

Karna Waiting

Karna knows       his brother’s father will come
while he worships at sunrise       to beg his armor
his father has warned him       he knows

he will choose       to be known
as generous       cutting the gold from his flesh
and handing it over       still dripping

though after this alms       after curse after curse
he will die at his brother’s hand
no strength left       the sun behind a cloud

from then on men will see themselves in Karna
and name their sons for his brother       for victory
instead of generosity and pain

meanwhile       Karna wakes at dawn
to worship       meanwhile       his father
the sun       will warm his back

God in the San Juans

For a moment I got it, didn’t I,
dirt and dry grass, orange
whirr of a startled locust,
cloud-mottled mountains, song
I overheard and loved and knew
I would forget?

Arjuna waited,
Krishna’s careful philosophy
just so much wind in his hair,
until Krishna came as God to him.
Then he begged God to be Krishna again.
Then they turned, and rode into battle as men.

Even a glimpse is too much, quickly
we turn back. But we remember
waiting, wondering what to ask.
Mountains in the middle distance.
Prairie dust. At each step,
crunch of spiny grasses underfoot.

The Last Ship from Atlantis

Illustration of “The Last Ship from Atlantis” by Lenny Krosinsky
Illustration of “The Last Ship from Atlantis” by Lenny Krosinsky

The world burns in the night.

Salt tightens my nostrils
as prow cuts water
unshapen now, beyond the Pillars,
a mirror blotted not by fire
but the loss of it.

The world burns but I still take your hand
miles beneath me now, and green
as the snow on our mountaintops,
green as our white gates
gaped to streams of horses
jangling gold, bickering ivory,
the saddles sizzling in the scornful noon.

I still take your hand and kiss your airless mouth
as the dark sky beneath the dark sky
speeds away without changing
and deep winds cross us to wretched destinations
and slap us back even from there.

Hilarious to lose you
to the flying bleeding rocks
when I remember how you could melt the earth
with a sniff and gesture of face
and that walk of yours, tall as a star.

We lay in the cool of the dry peaks
and the cool of our sweet sweat,
the mild lime squares of ambergris
still buckled around your bare hips,
toes and fingers colored
after kings’ gowns or eyelids.

Lifted on an elbow, you swept
the sea and the gloried island
with your other arm, saying “Gift.”

And gift was given.

Nor did you and I have anything to do
with the givings and takings of gods,
with barters or oaths,
sins or merits.

Gift was the cry of finding, the cry of forsaking,
the same cry,
from your upward broken lips
and the sleep that doused you like June storm
so your thought could scamper in drifted buildings.

The hot small flower
you drew along my cheek
was the smash of our strange armadas,
our slaveries, our crawling vaults.

Oh, we were everything they killed us for:
I carry that like a tomb
in my open fists.

We landed on the world like a hawk
with a voice all hunger and harm.

Hunger and harm
were the flags of our plazas
the tribute of our tax
the bread we threw in the wine.

I will say you were innocent
with all this murder in your hair to the roots
because this is how you were born,
a tongue of rich pallor
dressed in thieves’ grabbings.

And I will say I’m condemned
though I was born how you were,
one of the hawk’s dead fingers,
because it wasn’t work, pleasure,
or any wakeful thing took me
to the harbor this morning,
just dim desire
to look on the lying sea,
and when the crap of our victories
the drench of our sciences
the cripples of our hopes
began to flog the ground to bits in gnashes of smoke
and heavenly vine of flame and spattered lace of screams
I made no attempt
to run between the nodding walls
and under the gods’ own clouds
and up the hills to you.

I sat out from shore with a few dried men
shrunk too small for our clothes, our shoes,
and watched you taken under
all day long
while the mountains spilled like suns
and the gods’ sun lowered
into faceless red ocean
and the thing was complete
and a night blew up,
and a wind.

We turned ourselves and passed the Pillars.

I know you would have me
bring something rescued
to a land we may or may not reach,
and bring it bravely
but the bravery itself
is all I’ve rescued
and it does me as much good
as my love does now.

Behind my back
where the fear went down with the love
the world burns
not for a sign or teaching
and not to marry its black element
to a last or first light
but because world swallowed you and you world
and drowned or undrowned,
you burn.