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Poetry


Richard Wilbur – Ecclesiastes 11:1

R.I.P. to the man Alan Jacobs said is “the best American poet since WW2.” Stay tuned for a fuller in memoriam…

We must cast our bread
Upon the waters, as the
Ancient preacher said,

Trusting that it may
Amply be restored to us
After many a day.

That old metaphor,
Drawn from rice farming on the
River’s flooded shore,

Helps us to believe
That it’s no great sin to give,
Hoping to receive.

Therefore I shall throw
Broken bread, this sullen day,
Out across the snow,

Betting crust and crumb
That birds will gather, and that
One more spring will come.

My Neighbor's Mailbox - Robert Cording

My Neighbor’s Mailbox – Robert Cording

One of the three gems we got from him in this Love & Death Issue.

My Neighbor’s Mailbox

is the usual silver color, oversized
Wonder Bread shape on which he’s stenciled
“Welcome Family and Friends.”
My neighbor and I are friendly.
I appreciate the way he’s often tuning up
an engine or working around his yard.
We talk about the weather, or how our houses
are always in need of more attention
than we can give them. Last week
he told me of a robbery only three doors away
from where we stood, and the loaded gun
he keeps in his closet. He wondered
about our neighbor with the half-shaved head
and face-full of piercings…

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Two Poems by Brandon Courtney

The following poems were originally published in Tin House’s recent “Rehab” issue and are written by US Navy veteran Brandon Courtney (with featured art by Guy Catling):

Lazaretto

Without a shipboard morgue,

we kept the dead Iraqi

in the dairy box—his corpse

supine beside the eggs (more…)

Recovery – Czeslaw Milosz

As Milosz’s biographer, Andrzej Franaszek, says:

“In the spring of 1943, [Czeslaw Milosz] wrote a cycle of twenty short poems entitled The World: Naive Poems . . . a sequence of little cameos from childhood, images which would not be out of place if hung above a tiny bed, showing a guardian angel watching over a child and its night-time journeying. . . . Here we have the world, discovered with the eyes of a child and, at the same time, as it ought to be, given to human beings to live in – a world filled with sacred order, as if the poet raised a building of sense in spite of the nightmare surrounding him [ in occupied Poland], setting existence against nothingness.”

Here’s one from those twenty, entitled “Recovery” (ht KW).

“Here I am–why this senseless fear?
The night is over, the day will soon arise.
You hear. The shepherds’ horns already sound,
And stars grow pale over the rosy glow.

“The path is straight. We are at the edge.
Down in the village the little bell chimes.
Roosters on the fences greet the light
And the earth steams, fertile and happy.

“Here it is still dark. Fog like a river flood
Swaddles the black clumps of bilberries.
But the dawn on bright stilts wades in from the shore
And the ball of the sun, ringing, rolls.”

The Bible in One Hand, the Novel in the Other

The Bible in One Hand, the Novel in the Other

Call it a nerd’s dream-come-true. A few months before I attended their three week summer seminar called “Imaginative Reading for Creative Preaching,” Calvin College mailed me a rather large box filled with all manner of books — novels, poetry, short stories, journalism, biography, and children’s literature. Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath was bunking next to Gilead, which was sleeping atop a Robert Frost anthology of poems. I did my best to read as many of the books as I could before my family and I trekked to Grand Rapids for a sabbatical. My fellow seminar participants and I then spent…

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Prayer Is Like Watching for the Kingfisher – Ann Lewin

Prayer is like watching for

The kingfisher. All you can do is

Be there where he is like to appear, and

Wait.

Often nothing much happens;

There is space, silence and

Expectancy.

No visible signs, only the

Knowledge that he’s been there

And may come again.

Seeing or not seeing cease to matter,

You have been prepared.

But when you’ve almost stopped

Expecting it, a flash of brightness

Gives encouragement.

“Derecho” by Gerry LaFemina

Here’s another new one from Gerry LaFemina, author of Little Heretic, which is available now; look for his forthcoming collection, The Story of Ash, in early 2018.

Derecho by Gerry LaFemina

The wind, as if in heat, knocks
at the windows. So much hunger even
on this cul-de-sac with its full
garbage cans & buzz-cut lawns. Street-
lights blush but keep staring. A whole
community of voyeurs & exhibitionists,
the church prudes with their gossip,
coffee, & pastries after gospel
lessons from the pulpit. The storm
remembers the old prayers, too,
those pleas for intervention; it bears
the answers in dust & leaves,
mini cyclones of debris.
An electric aftertaste that lingers.
All this love & lust. All this
lonesomeness. First days after
the Feast of Saints, the Feast of Souls,
yet still a few weeks from bounty.
If god is a vengeful god let him
come when we call his name,
shuddering. Shutters bang
in the gale, magnolia branches
rattle the panes so we’re afraid
for a moment that the glass &
the moment behind it, might shatter.

Veni Creator – Czeslaw Milosz

Come, Holy Spirit,
bending or not bending the grasses,
appearing or not above our heads in a tongue of flame,
at hay harvest or when they plough in the orchards or when snow
covers crippled firs in the Sierra Nevada.
I am only a man: I need visible signs.
I tire easily, building the stairway of abstraction.
Many a time I asked, you know it well, that the statue in church
lifts its hand, only once, just once, for me.
But I understand that signs must be human,
therefore call one man, anywhere on earth,
not me—after all I have some decency—
and allow me, when I look at him, to marvel at you.

A Talk with Friedrich Nietzsche – Adam Zagajewski

Most highly respected Professor Nietzsche,
sometimes I seem to see you
on a sanatorium terrace at dawn
with fog descending and song bursting
the throats of the birds.

Not tall, head like a bullet,
you compose a new book
and a strange energy hovers around you.
Your thoughts parade
like enormous armies.

You know now that Anne Frank died,
and her classmates and friends, boys, girls,
and friends of her friends, and cousins
and friends of her cousins.

What are words, I want to ask you, what
is clarity and why do words keep burning
a century later, though the earth
weighs so much?

Clearly nothing links enlightenment
and the dark pain of cruelty.
At least two kingdoms exist,
if not more.

But if there’s no God and no force
welds elements in repulsion,
then what are words really, and from whence
does their inner light come?

And from where does joy come, and where
does nothingness go? Where is forgiveness?
Why do the incidental dreams vanish at dawn and the
great ones keep growing?

(Translated by Renata Gorczynski)

"The Asymmetry of Time" by Gerry LaFemina

“The Asymmetry of Time” by Gerry LaFemina

The following is a new poem by Gerry LaFemina; he was kind enough to let us post it here. His most recent collection, Little Heretic, is available now; look for his forthcoming collection, The Story of Ash, in early 2018.

The Asymmetry of Time

Down the hill from the schoolyard where seventh grade boys
squander each recess imagining their first kiss—a vision
that scares & excites them equally, they can even point out

the classmate who co-stars in these fantasies, & how they look
askance, embarrassed, when they’re caught almost staring—&
further, beyond the closed mills & the blue-collar bar

where the old timers rerun familiar stories, replaying
heroic roles standing up to…

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“O Holy Night” by Gerry LaFemina

The following is a new poem by Gerry LaFemina; he was kind enough to let us post it here. His most recent collection, Little Heretic, is available now; look for his forthcoming collection, The Story of Ash, in early 2018.

O Holy Night

The tiny novitiates of candlelight flicker but remain
devout despite the bedroom’s draft,

the movement of flame a kind of flirtation,
the wicks seeming to wink &

beckon. Tonight was supposed to be
romantic in that way certain movies depict—

how easy to forget the body can be
sacred in its carnal wants. Touch, too. I’ve never been good

at fidelity, so often I’ve been tempted
by my name called in the hushed & lonely dark.

"Night of Atonement" by Gerry LaFemina

“Night of Atonement” by Gerry LaFemina

The following poem comes from Gerry LaFemina’s forthcoming collection, The Story of Ash. His latest collection, Little Heretic, is available here.

Night of Atonement

My trespasses I’m well-acquainted with—
they sit at the bar & share among themselves
ribald stories, while neighbors I don’t recognize

walk in groups from synagogue
agog in their laughter. Forgiveness is theirs
this evening, & how I envy them,

just one more transgression for St. Pete’s ledger.
Here’s another: the young couple, he in his yarmulka,
she in white tights—

the way he looks at her as if
startled she’s beside him, that she laughs at his jokes:
I envy that, too. And another:

I’ve likely had too many
mojitos tonight because it’s…

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