To pull the metal splinter from my palm
my father recited a story in a low voice.
I watched his lovely face and not the blade.
Before the story ended, he’d removed
the iron sliver I thought I’d die from.
I can’t remember the tale,
but hear his voice still, a well
of dark water, a prayer.
And I recall his hands,
two measures of tenderness
he laid against my face,
the flames of discipline
he raised above my head.
Had you entered that afternoon
you would have thought you saw a man
planting something in a boy’s palm,
a silver tear, a tiny flame.
Had you followed that boy
you would have arrived here,
where I bend over my wife’s right hand.
Look how I shave her thumbnail down
so carefully she feels no pain.
Watch as I lift the splinter out.
I was seven when my father
took my hand like this,
and I did not hold that shard
between my fingers and think,
Metal that will bury me,
christen it Little Assassin,
Ore Going Deep for My Heart.
And I did not lift up my wound and cry,
Death visited here!
I did what a child does
when he’s given something to keep.
I kissed my father.
— li-young lee
— For What Binds Us, Jane Hirshfield
After Terrance Hayes
This trip. This seat. This wine. This bottle. This wine.
This sleep. This empty heart. This love, quickly crawling,
light floating outside the window of the plane. This silence.
This glass. This trembling. That is where I lie on the bed
by the wall, next to a window in the light of dawn. How
soon, how well, should a man and a woman make love?
How soon, how well, have I loved? On the bed, on the couch,
on the couch, on the bed. Love, like a train wreck, love, like
a cold bath. Love, like a brimming purse and a brimming
purse heavy and overpowering. This trip. This seat. This wine,
this torture. This book. This poem in a book. This wine
on the tongue. This memory in the wine.
— hope maxwell snyder
If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the
case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.
— mary oliver
You want to know what it was like?
It was like my whole life had a fever.
Whole acres of me were on fire.
The sun talked dirty in my ear all night.
I couldn’t drive past a wheatfield without doing it violence.
I couldn’t even look at a bridge.
I used to go out in the brush sometimes,
So far out there no one could hear me,
And just burn.
I felt all right then.
I couldn’t hurt anyone else.
I was just a pillar of fire.
It wasn’t the burning so much as the loneliness.
It wasn’t the loneliness so much as the fear of being alone.
Christ look at you pouring from the rocks.
You’re so cold you’re boiling over.
You’ve got stars in your hair.
I don’t want to be around you.
I don’t want to drink you in.
I want to walk into the heart of you
And never walk back out.
— Nico Alvarado
“I used to go out in the brush sometimes,/So far out there no one could hear me,/And just burn.” In the new issue of Gulf Coast, Nico Alvarado writes poems from the perspective of Friday Night Lights’s Tim Riggins including “Tim Riggins Speaks of Waterfalls” and “Tim Riggins Invents a New Number.”
That Goddamn Moon
—for Maria MuldaurTonight the moon is like a tambourine,
like the one a woman played in a jug band
I saw once and fell in love with,
it must be thirty years ago now,
but I did that kind of thing back then, fell
in love as easily as that, and I still remember,
it had skin bruised brown from the serious heel of her hand,
and you could see she was serious, the way she laughed
and pranced back and forth across the crowded stage,
the moon shimmering in the hand over her head,
and with the heel of her other one ringing out a song,
while a bunch of her friends, all guys, stood around
or sat spooking at the mouths of fat clay jugs
and running clacking spoons along the length of their thighs,
even pulling at some kind of strings that ran from the bridge
of a old mop and over the belly of a big wash tub.
Maybe you had to be there, to see and hear
the magic of the music, the madness of the moon, but tonight…
I mean, would you look at that goddamn moon.
—Louis McKee. Mad Poets Review. Volume 23, 2009.
There’s a woman in me who drinks poison
like water, thinks it’s what she needs
to stay alive. I wish she’d learn to savor
water’s plain taste, enjoy quench and calm.
But give her hurricane and drowned
peony blooms and she smiles, raises
her face to the rain and says, Hit me.
I can’t stand feeling wind on my skin
because it’s not your hands.
I don’t know how not to hand you
the match, how not to let you strike it
and light this house on fire, how not
to relish disappearing into ash,
my bones crumbled, an exploded
plum all that’s left of my heart.
The ground that is not true
ground but spindled grief.
After you’ve swum in the ocean, felt
the current, wave-crash, and depth
that goes deeper, deeper, and darker,
to choose a lake, with its smooth
and silt, no matter how fresh the water,
how relieved the skin to be rid of
the salt’s sting, is to ignore the hunger
of the man brave enough to love the sea.
— marie-elizabeth mali
Some mornings are like this,
the stupor of longing or pure light,
stillness in a rifled grouse,
the black woods legible to a woman
whose heart is made of false starts,
the ruddy life of a hill gone blank
or what the face in the window
wants to believe of her past,
architecture of a white house,
this draft of rooms, paramour planets,
children with gentle hands, kindling
piled near the moon’s pillar, this draft
of despotic love, then distance, vacancy,
then forgiven words accumulating
like snow, just when the world
is finished with us, we build a wall
with rocks and the work is the whole
body inside the idea of belonging
somewhere, even if not for long,
mineral world of slate and flint,
numinous like these days and others
wintering, we test what will hold,
attenuated voices that lean
and fall, the argent sky, the worry
we don’t need anyone.
— stacie cassarino