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

Sun Bear

yesterday at the Oakland zoo

I was walking alone for a moment

past the enclosure holding the sun bear

also known as beruang madu

it looked at me without interest

it has powerful jaws and truly loves honey

it sleeps in a high hammock

its claws look made out of wood

and if it dreams at all it is of Malaysia

home of its enemy the clouded leopard

a gorgeous arboreal

hunting and eating machine

whose coat resembles a python

now it is night and the zoo is closed

some animals are sleeping

the nocturnals moving in their cages

getting ready to hunt nothing

I don’t know why but I feel sure

something has woken the sun bear

it is awake in the dark

maybe it is my spirit animal

I am reading about the early snow

that has fallen on the Northeast

all the power shutting down

the weather going insane

the animals cannot help us

they go on moving without love

though we look into their eyes and feel

sure we see it there and maybe

we are right nothing

can replace animal love

not even complicated human love

we sometimes choose to allow

ourselves to be chosen by

despite what everyone knows

the problem is

in order to love anything

but an animal you cannot allow

yourself to believe in those things

that are if we don’t stop them

going to destroy us

Matthew Zapruder

From Sun Bear (Copper Canyon Press, 2014)


Whom You Love

"Tell me whom you love, and I’ll tell you who you are."—Creole Proverb

The man whose throat blossoms with spicy chocolates

Tempers my ways of flurrying

Is my inner recesses surfacing

Paints the bedroom blue because he wants to carry me to the skies

Pear eater in the orchard

Possesses Whitmanesque urge and urgency

Boo Bear, the room turns orchestral

Crooked grin of ice cream persuasion

When I speak he bursts into seeds & religion

Poetry housed in a harmonica

Line dances with his awkward flair

Rare steaks, onion rings, Maker’s on the rocks

Once-a-boy pilfering grenadine

Nebraska, Nebraska, Nebraska

Wicked at the door of happiness

At a longed-for distance remains sharply crystalline

Fragments, but by day’s end assembled into joint narrative

Does not make me who I am, entirely

Heart like a fig, sliced

Peonies in a clear round vase, singing

A wisp, a gasp, sonorous stutter

Tuning fork deep in my belly, which is also a bell

Evening where there is no church but fire

Sparks, particles, chrysalis into memory

Moth, pod of enormous pleasure, fluttering about on a train

He knows I don’t need saving and rescues me anyhow

Our often-misunderstood kind of love is dangerous

Darling, fill my cup; the bird has come to roost

Joseph O. Legaspi

From Aviary, Bestiary (Organic Weapon Arts Chapbook Series, 2014)


I Have a Problem with the Erotic History of Musk

Those red, jellied secretions from the guts
of East Asian deer

make the base notes in many
perfumes labeled musk. What I learned next

shivered from a scent
to a bleat as I read that ancient

shepherds first discovered the scent
of musk from sheep-fucking,

from the pungent fragrance
released by the animals’

anal glands. And this
is a problem for me. This

bothers me, even though the vials
of musk in my medicine

cabinet were brewed
from synthetic recipes. I don’t want

even these bruised
approximations or the way

a dab of musk under each
pulsing earlobe calls near

a cornered or kicking animal
and a cry in which I find myself

on which side of this struggle?
What did you say

last night when you
bent near my ear? 

What were you coming here for
if not to dissolve

one time into another, this
brick house into a Bronze

Age field. The scent of
that body—ancient—as it yields.

Anna Journey

From the literary journal, Field, No. 90, Spring 2014


Threshold of the Oblivious Blossoming

When I said one blossom desires the air,
Another the shadows, I was free
Of desires. Beyond the doorsill the café tables

Were empty because it was raining.
The rain was empty as well, & there was no poignancy

Left in it when I looked up at it falling, & went on
Sitting inside & waiting for my dealer to show up so I could buy
Two grams of crystal methedrine from her, talk for a moment,

And finish my coffee.

When I thought of the petals of the magnolia blossom
Flattened by passing traffic to the pavement & the gradual
Discoloration of them, their white like that of communion dresses

Becoming gray & a darker gray moment by moment,
When I knew I wanted them to mean nothing

And suggest everything, desire rushed back into things,
But not into the blossoms & not into the air.

Larry Levis (1946-1996)

From the literary journal, Field, No. 90, Spring 2014


Imago Dei

Nail parings, tooth bits, rubbed eyelashes, blood—
what if over the broken bedstead of the past

there hovers for each of us an effigy
made from all the parts we let go,

the shot sparrows of ourselves, lost pages,
beetle-eaten leaves? Some nights

the world is a banging shutter
or a dream of crows scraping the sky,

some nights a tape measure coiled
and sleeping in a drawer.

What if along the road, in a truck’s tailwind
you found a black stone with a white

quartz cross embedded within?
Surely it would be a sin to want back

all the skin we’ve shed,
holding on when all instructions say, Let go

of these shards, these shadowy parts,
scars and wounds,

till they’re gathered up
into a kind of angel-other,

all particle and wave, moving
like metal shavings toward

some great magnet whose force
is invisible until it inhabits us.

Betsy Sholl

From the literary magazine, Field, No. 90, Spring 2014


La Boda del Mar y Arena

If we, for long enough, look,
with the clean eyes of children
at what this big house is saying,

we will start to understand
the language of our parents,
what the salt means.

I do not want to marry the wind
who leaves me things the color of gold,
whose tracks mark a serpent round the house.

More, more than parrots, more than gold,
I want my love to know my ear.
My love, I want to know your ear, & in this

instant that is as long as my life, I stand,
rigged with bones, beside the window:
beneath the purple dark of evening coming,

the sea & beach move into each other’s mouths
particle by particle; each one wanders
the big rooms of the other.

O, god, let us love
like they love.

Aracelis Girmay

From Kingdom Animalia (BOA Editions, 2011)


The sky is something

From their hotel windows, men are fishing for sharks.
Beneath them, I am in love with a boy with eyes dark
from his mother’s apartment on the other side of the boardwalk.

I hold his tongue in my teeth in the back of a rusted truck—
80 mph over a beach dotted with bonfires.
Some part of his body is always moving—leg-twitch, fingers, arms
—like fire, like a shark sleeping.

At fifteen, photographs of water make me seasick with longing.
I wear the same T-shirt for weeks,
                                           charming myself. WBCN, “The Rock
of Boston,” and the sun setting over my body that is hookey
from dance studios, from moving in unison,
in leotards and jazz shoes, from moving
up the back staircase to my own coiled room.

The boy’s hair smells like cumin, turmeric,
like his mother’s doughy arms, like soup cooking.

Tell me something beautiful, I say to him; what two bodies can do.
Beautiful—like the speed of the truck, cheap beer,
the forced squint of his face against wind, beer, sun—the sky, he says,
the sky is something.

I think of the fishermen: the smell of shark on their finger tips,
the stained hotel pillows.
Love is an arm roped in fishing line: invisible,
cutting. I suck the small gold cross on the chain
at my neck like a restaurant mint, wonder
what it will be like to finally lie next to him: the still compartments
of his eyes, his skin of rough stones, and his incessant motion,
even when sleeping, as if his heart, swimming into his throat,
wanted to be caught there.

Sarah Messer

From Bandit Letters (New Issues Poetry & Prose, 2001)