after Adrian Matejka, Ernesto Mercer

I know it’s wrong to stare, but it’s Tuesday,
The express is going local, and this woman’s

Thighs—cocoa-buttered, crossed, and stacked
To her chin—are the only beauty I think I’ll see

For the next forty minutes. Not the train’s
Muttering junkie, who pauses a little too long

In front of me, dozing, but never losing balance.
Not the rat we notice scurry past the closing doors,

Terrorizing the rush hour platform. Not
Even these five old Black men, harmonizing

About begging and pride, about a woman
Who won’t come home. But skin, refracted

Light, and the hem’s hard mysteries. I imagine
There’s a man somewhere in this city, working

Up the nerve to beg this woman home, the sweet
Reconciliation of sweat on sweat, and pride

Not even afterthought. My own woman, who
I’ve begged sometimes not to leave, and begged

Sometimes please to leave, never has, also waits
Uptown, in a fourth floor walk-up, in an old t-shirt

For me to make it back. She waits for me to come
Through jungles, over rivers, out from underground.

She waits, without fear, knowing no matter what,
I will make it home. And, God, there were times

I probably shouldn’t have, but did, and lived
To see this day, the junkies, rats, and thighs,

And I say, praise it all. Even this ride, its every
Bump and stall, and each funky body pressed

To another, sweat earned over hours, bent over moats
Caged in cubicles, and after it all, the pouring

Of us, like Scotch, into daylight. Dusk.
Rush hour. This long trip home. Praise it all.

The dead miss out on summer. The sun
Bouncing off moving trains and a woman

To love you when you get inside. Somewhere
In this city, a man will plead for love gone,

Another chance, and think himself miserable.
He’ll know, somewhere deep, he may never

Win her back. But he’ll know, even deeper,
That there is a kind of joy in the begging

Itself, that all songs are love songs. Blues,
Especially. Praise the knowledge. Praise

The opening and closing doors, the ascent
Into light, heat, each sidewalk square, cracks

And all, the hundred and twelve stairs between
Lobby and my woman’s front door, the exact

Moment, I let in this city, let out this sweat,
And come to own this mighty, mighty joy.

John Murillo

From Up Jump the Boogie (Cypher Books, 2010



Sometimes I read pages of books without retaining anything.
I am thinking about my own drama and caesura
until I come across a word like creosote, which seems familiar
but I have to look up. When I go to the dictionary, I realize
I am wondering who will bury me and where,
going over the time I was almost hit by a car on A1A.
It was dark, and he’d left me in the parking garage
saying, “Ill go ahead and get us a table.” He meant
inside of Le Tub where there was always a long wait.
I stood in front of the Master Meter with my fistful of coins.
"OK," I said. What if that had been the end, that flattened smack, of me?
He would have looked up from the menu to the sirens—
their wail and red pulsing light—and it might have taken him
a moment to realize I was the one on the ground.
The thing about reading is that your mind might wander
to imagine the author sitting long enough
and silent enough to recall such a moment, so intimate
she never even mentioned it to her date.
The driver who almost hit me had forgotten
to turn on his headlights. And what about the intimacy
of writing itself? What makes us do it, relive instead of live, go back
and forward in time? It’s like dancing
to empty chairs in an empty room of a closed bar,
your shimmery ghost there long after you’ve left.
Only a few people will come to the dive
where you once danced, or turn to the page
where you left some marks, look at the words you wrote.
Fewer still will read them. Then a mixture
of vanity and humility if a stranger understands.
Or looks up a word she’d forgotten she knew.

Denise Duhamel

From Ploughshares, Spring 2014, Vol. 40, No. 1


poem in praise of menstruation

if there is a river
more beautiful than this
bright as the blood
red edge of the moon       if

there is a river
more faithful than this
returning each month
to the same delta         if there

is a river
braver than this
coming and coming in a surge
of passion, of pain           if there is

a river
more ancient than this
daughter of eve
mother of cain and of abel         if there is in

the universe such a river         if
there is some where water
more powerful than this wild
pray that it flows also
through animals
beautiful and faithful and ancient
and female and brave

Lucille Clifton

From The Collected Poems of Lucile Clifton 1965-2010 (BOA Editions, 2012)


One Heart

Look at the birds. Even flying
is born

out of nothing. The first sky
is inside you, open

at either end of day.
The work of wings

was always freedom, fastening
one heart to every falling thing.

Li-Young Lee

From Book of My Nights (BOA Editions, 2001)



Having assumed it’s none of my business
that our cats sniff each other’s asses
while I prepare their breakfast, I turn now
to the window and resume the relationship
I’ve had with two horses who may be
two different horses since I fell in love
with shapes moving horse-like
in the distance eight years ago. I watched

one dusk in Michigan a horse mount
and conspire with another to make
yet a third, the mounted horse
completely not stopping eating
while the other quickly did his thing,
which resembled my thing in how it held on to
and cherished blood, as if for a while
it were a heart. I didn’t expect that thought
but there it is, the dick-heart, and weirdly,

when I put their food down, the cats usually
go look at birds, as if to remind themselves
what the real life is
and that it isn’t this one, though for me,
this has been completely authentic
from day one, such that if you gathered
all of my desires in a bag, I would marvel
at the size and hunger of the bag
and want that too, and we could talk
well into the night about how to slip the bag
holding everything into the bag
holding everything without dropping a thing,
like where else could you fit the sky
but the sky?

Bob Hicok

From Elegy Owed (Copper Canyon Press, 2013)


The Blessing of the Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog

To be blessed
said the old woman
is to live and work
so hard
God’s love
washes right through you
like milk through a cow

To be blessed
said the dark red tulip
is to knock their eyes out
with the slug of lust
implied by
your up-ended

To be blessed
said the dog
is to have a pinch
of God
inside you
and all the other dogs
can smell it

In Every Life

In every life there’s a moment or two
when we disappear, the cruel wound
takes over, and then again
at times we are filled with trees
or with birds
or with polishing the furniture
said the old woman

I know what you mean said the tulip
about epiphanies
for instance a breezy April day
the approach of a butterfly
but as to the disappearing self
I have not yet experienced that

You are creating distinctions
that do not exist in nature
where “self” and “not-self” are like salt
in ocean, cloud in sky
oxygen in fire
said the philosophical dog
under the table scratching his balls

Alicia Suskin Ostriker

From The Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog (Univ. of PIttsburgh Press, 2014)


Advice from a Caterpillar

Chew your way into a new world.

Munch leaves. Molt. Rest. Molt

again. Self-reinvention is everything.

Spin many nests. Cultivate stinging

bristles. Don’t get sentimental

about your discarded skins. Grow

quickly. Develop a yen for nettles.

Alternate crumpling and climbing. Rely

on your antennae. Sequester poisons

in your body for use at a later date.

When threatened, emit foul odors

in self-defense. Behave cryptically

to confuse predators: change colors, spit,

or feign death. If all else fails, taste terrible.

Amy Gerstler

From Dearest Creature (Penguin, 2009)


Chapel of Inadvertent Joy

One minute you’re hissing at your wife about something trivial,
the next you’re stomping derelict train tracks, when it emerges,

its spires shooting up between your ribs,
your gaze swivels skyward and catches a clutch of birds,

glittering over a smokestack, sparkling back and forth in the sky,
in various formations, like a math equation being worked out

in the mind of a genius. Always pull the car over when you spot
a teen punk rock show at dusk in a public park. Always drink

a glimpse of a white horse in a sunlit pasture at the end of summer.
Always laugh when the garden hose slips out of your hand

and sprays you in the face. When they said smell the roses,
they didn’t tell you that every day the rose changes,

that first you must identify the rose. Today you’re in a field
by the Hudson. Ribbons of nectar spool from a folk singer’s lips,

your wife and daughter lollygag in the grass. Sunlight
drizzles through tree leaves, an organic stained-glass window.

Feel the convergence of all your stray voltage. Don’t pull out
of that feeling. Let the father standing next to you

see your eyes well up, the inverse of how the neighbors
sometimes hear you yelling fuck. It’s true—you don’t deserve this,

but it’s yours anyway: the gold-tipped spurs of this moment,
a red bird flinging praise through the sky.

Jeffrey McDaniel

From Chapel of Inadvertent Joy (University of PIttsburgh Press, 2013)


Every Day You Play

Every day you play with the light of the universe.
Subtle visitor, you arrive in the flower and the water.
You are more than this white head that I hold tightly
as a cluster of fruit, every day, between my hands.

You are like nobody since I love you.
Let me spread you out among yellow garlands.
Who writes your name in letters of smoke among the stars of the south?
Oh let me remember you as you were before you existed.

Suddenly the wind howls and bangs at my shut window.
The sky is a net crammed with shadowy fish.
Here all the winds let go sooner or later, all of them.

The birds go by, fleeing.
The wind. The wind.
I can contend only against the power of men.
The storm whirls dark leaves
and turns loose all the boats that were moored last night to the sky.

You are here. Oh, you do not run away.
You will answer me to the last cry.
Cling to me as though you were frightened.
Even so, at one time a strange shadow ran through your eyes.

Now, now too, little one, you bring me honeysuckle,
and even your breasts smell of it.
While the sad wind goes slaughtering butterflies
I love you, and my happiness bites the plum of your mouth.

How you must have suffered getting accustomed to me,
my savage, solitary soul, my name that sends them all running.
So many times we have seen the morning star burn, kissing our eyes,
and over our heads the grey light unwind in turning fans.

My words rained over you, stroking you.
A long time I have loved the sunned mother-of-pearl of your body.
I go so far as to think that you own the universe.
I will bring you happy flowers from the mountains, blue-bells,
dark hazels, and rustic baskets of kisses.
I want to do with you
what spring does with the cherry trees.

Juegas Todo Los Días

Juegas todos los días con la luz del universo.
Sutil visitadora, llegas en la flor y en el agua.
Eres más que esta blanca cabecita que aprieto
como un racimo entre mis manos cada día.

A nadie te pareces desde que yo te amo.
Déjame tenderte entre guirnaldas amarillas.
Quién escribe tu nombre con letras de humo entre las estrellas del sur?
Ah, déjame recordarte cómo eras entonces, cuando aún no existías.

De pronto el viento aúlla y golpea mi ventana cerrada.
El cielo es una red cuajada de peces sombríos.
Aquí vienen a dar todos los vientos, todos.
Se desviste la lluvia.

Pasan huyendo los pájaros.
El viento. El viento.
Yo sólo puedo luchar contra la fuerza de los hombres.
El temporal arremolina hojas oscuras
y suelta toda las barcas que anoche amarraron al cielo.

Tú estás aquí. Ah tú no huyes
Tú me responderás hasta el último grito.
Ovíllate a mi lado como si tuvieras miedo.
Sin embargo alguna vez corrió una sombra extraña por tus ojos.

Ahora, ahora también, pequeña, me traes madreselvas,
y tienes hasta los senos perfumados.
Mientras el viento triste galopa matando mariposas
yo te amo, y mi alegría muerde tu boca de ciruela.

Cuánto te habrá dolido acostumbrarte a mí,
a mi alma sola y salvaje, a mi nombre que todos ahuyentan.
Hemos visto arder tantas veces el lucero besándonos los ojos
y sobre nuestras cabezas destorcerse los crepúsculos en
      abanicos girantes.

Mis palabras llovieron sobre ti acariciándote.
Amé desde hace tiempo tu cuerpo de nácar soleado.
Hasta te creo dueña del universo.
Te traeré de las montañas flores alegres, copihues,
avellanas oscuras, y cestas silvestres de besos.
Quiero hacer contigo
lo que la primavera hace con los cerezos.

Pablo Neruda

From Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, trans. W.S. Merwin (Penguin Classics, 2006)

Photo Set


National Poetry Month: Q&A with Marie-Elizabeth Mali

Marie-Elizabeth Mali is the author of Steady, My Gaze (Tebot Bach, 2011) and co-editor with Annie Finch of the anthology, Villanelles (Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets, 2012). Her work has appeared in Drunken Boat, Poet Lore, and RATTLE, among others. She can be found online at here.

1. Imagine you’re a poetry lobbyist in D.C.: What would be the first thing on your agenda?

Besides affordable healthcare for poets? To slip poems of heart and witness on to the desks of every lawmaker in town. Better yet, paper their bathrooms with poems and remove the magazines.

2. Name one other poet who has influenced you profoundly and why. 

Mark Doty. Because of the depth with which he looks at the world and humanity. Because of the gorgeousness of his language and descriptions. Because of that consciousness in his poems always reaching for more. Because, heart.

3. Recommend one print and one online publication you think everyone should read this month.

Print: RATTLE because it’s one of the few literary magazines that purely features poetry, I generally like the poems they choose, they publish good interviews, and they have a good web presence. Online: diodepoetry.com. They choose interesting poets to publish, have a nice layout (easy to navigate and read), and I like that they often publish longer poems.

Source: politicsprose