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Poetry


“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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Das Heimliche Lied (The Secret Song)

Das Heimliche Lied (The Secret Song)

The following comes to us from our friend, Luke Ferraguti:

As an accompanist, I occasionally stumble across a brilliant piece of poetry in vocal music. I recently discovered Louis Spohr’s Six German Songs, composed in 1837. Spohr wrote the poems and composed the music himself. The fifth song of the set, Das Heimliche Lied (The Secret Song), was particularly heavy-hitting — thanks be to God, our forgiving Confidant.

Das Heimliche Lied (The Secret Song)

There are secret pains
Whose lament is never tongued;
Borne deep in the heart
They are unknown to the world.

There is a secret longing
That always shies from the light;
There are hidden tears
A…

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The Humanity Of God: An Ascension Day Reflection

The Humanity Of God: An Ascension Day Reflection

Commencement season is almost over (there are some college graduations still happening, if you can believe it!). This year I learned of a tradition I didn’t know existed. Apparently a newly elected president’s first commencement address is usually given at Notre Dame. But Donald Trump broke with this convention, recently delivering his first commencement address at Liberty University. In my opinion, it was one of his better public addresses. But he did do one conventional thing in the speech itself: he quoted from Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” Quotations from this poem are ubiquitous at graduations, along with inevitable misinterpretations.

Here is…

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Magdalene: At the Grave, by Marie Howe

Magdalene: At the Grave, by Marie Howe

… Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom…

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“Transubstantiation” by Mischa Willett

From Willett’s new collection of poetry, Phases:

Transubstantiation

Bread should be of the sort
commonly eaten, declares the sotto
voce of the Book of Common Prayer,
attendants at the would-be grisly feast, we seated
goers of the fete prepare

our hearts to receive. What that means
for me is ignoring largely the lost and meager
symbol held aloft by this dumb garage
to the vehicle of grace; my own mea
culpa: the inability to transcend the image

of the body before me. That it breaks
cleanly in half, snapped along a prefab crease
is nearly as bad as the milky tinge
the wafers have, as though hadn’t
known wheat, earth, heat,
knead or rise.

We start: cleanse hearts, cleanse thoughts.

Deacons pass stacks of plastic thimbles:
single-serving sanitary shots of purple juice,
and write on our tongues the
difference in cleanliness and the god-
lines it’s next to.

Art of Survival

Cold kitchen floor
Smooth basil leaves
Dog’s rubber tongue
Tree’s hardened skin

Bricks under foot
Grey chalky clouds
Paint sculpted on wood
Her shadow on blue

Steel’s sharpened edge
Soft swollen vein
This very pen
This scribbled painting…

Your hair. Your nape.
My fingers. Your lips.

All these surfaces
That I touch
Fade into stone.

Pastoral – Mischa Willett

A timely one from the gifted poet’s terrific new collection, Phases (reprinted with permission):

Let us not overlook, he says looking out over
us from the lectern like a shepherd
with a crook of words bent on folding
us back into our pen, or penning
us back to our fold, the stupidity
and defenselessness of sheep.
We bleat: in this analogy, who
are we? He proceeds. Goats, you
see, can handle themselves. Horns
and hoofs, cranial helmets they ram
full tilt into posts, or other goats. But sheep
mind you, sheep have no homing device,
which is why stories begin with a lost one;
they’re even known to head toward danger
—oh look, a wolf! Let’s check it out!— in dumb
allegiance to the interesting, which I find
interesting, and think: how to amend
our sheepish ways? But he, to drive
home both the point and oh ye,
sighs it’s beyond you; beyond me.