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dotsJournal: dots
Mood: The Usual

Memory As a Hearing Aid
by Tony Hoagland

Somewhere, someone is asking a question,
and I stand squinting at the classroom
with one hand cupped behind my ear,
trying to figure out where that voice is coming from.

I might be already an old man,
attempting to recall the night
his hearing got misplaced,
front-row-center at a battle of the bands,

where a lot of leather-clad, second-rate musicians,
amped up to dinosaur proportions,
test drove their equipment through our ears.
Each time the drummer threw a tantrum,

the guitarist whirled and sprayed us with machine-gun riffs,
as if they wished that they could knock us
quite literally dead.
We called that fun in 1970,

when we weren’t sure our lives were worth surviving.
I’m here to tell you that they were,
and many of us did, despite ourselves,
though the road from there to here

is paved with dead brain cells,
parents shocked to silence,
and squad cars painting the whole neighborhood
the quaking tint and texture of red jelly.

Friends, we should have postmarks on our foreheads
to show where we have been;
we should have pointed ears, or polka-dotted skin
to show what we were thinking

when we hot-rodded over God’s front lawn,
and Death kept blinking.
But here I stand, an average-looking man
staring at a room

where someone blond in braids
with a beautiful belief in answers
is still asking questions.

Through the silence in my dead ear,
I can almost hear the future whisper
to the past: it says that this is not a test
and everybody passes.

...Created 2006-06-04 16:06:22

dotsJournal: dots
Mood: The Usual

Jessica Goodfellow

What You See If You Use Water as a Mirror

In Shinto, the eight elements
of beauty include impermanence
and perishability. Choose one
as your watermark. No,
that is the wrong one.

Begin by learning the 10,000 ways
to spell water. Puddle, swamp,
ice field: waters that don't
move. Estuary, geyser,
glacier: waters that do.

At lunch today, someone said
you were beautiful. The reader
is beautiful, he said. You weren't
there, but somewhere thinking
lagoon, waterfall, tide pool.

Knowing understatement is an element
of beauty, you thought drizzle,
fog, dew. All there is
to know about beauty can be learned
from water, so when you ask

the other five elements, you are told
mystery, incompleteness. Pause.
To learn the final three is to dishonor
the previous two. You must choose.
But here's a clue: cove, tributary, sleet.

...Created 2006-03-30 20:23:22

dotsJournal: dots
Mood: The Usual

Even the dogs in West Kerry know that the Otherworld
exists and that to be in and out of it constantly is the most
natural thing in the world.
— Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill

This is where a woman fell
to her death the other day,
climbing the cliff.
They found her face-up, spread-eagled
on the sand, as if she'd been ravished
by a god, or tried to fly.
On this rare hot day in Wales,
hang-gliders fill the down above,
each aspiring Icarus fluttering
silken, colored wings like the butterflies
in the bracken, which smells, the guidebooks
always say, of "desiccated coconut,"
like the ghost of some tropical isle.
She scaled these strata of seafloor
crowded up into the air until they grew
green and strewn with sheep on top,
where we walk and flirt with the edge
that boys clamber down to fish the ledges.
And though the border collies
bark at azure sea and sky, and try
to herd us back to safety,
as if they hear something we don't
out there, we lean, and listen.

William Greenway

...Created 2006-03-21 19:44:50

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Mood: The Usual

The Evening Star
Tonight, for the first time in many years,
there appeared to me again
a vision of the earth's splendor:

in the evening sky
the first star seemed
to increase in brilliance
as the earth darkened

until at last it could grow no darker.
And the light, which was the light of death,
seemed to restore to earth

its power to console. There were
no other stars. Only the one
whose name I knew

as in my other life I did her
injury: Venus,
star of the early evening,

to you I dedicate
my vision, since on this blank surface

you have cast enough light
to make my thought
visible again.

Louise Glück

...Created 2006-03-21 19:43:37

dotsJournal: dots
Mood: The Usual

Requests for Toy Piano
by Tony Hoagland

Play the one about the family of the ducks
where the ducks go down to the river
and one of them thinks the water will be cold
but then they jump in anyway
and like it and splash around.

No, I must play the one
about the nervous man from Palestine in row 14
with a brown bag in his lap
in which a gun is hidden in a sandwich.

Play the one about the handsome man and woman
standing on the steps of her apartment
and how the darkness and her perfume and the beating of their hearts
conjoin to make them feel
like leaping from the edge of chance—

No, I should play the one about
the hard rectangle of the credit card
hidden in the man’s back pocket
and how the woman spent an hour
plucking out her brows, and how her perfume
was made from the destruction of a hundred flowers.

Then play the one about the flower industry
in which the migrant workers curse their own infected hands
from tossing sheaves of roses and carnations
into the back of the refrigerated trucks.

No, I must play the one about the single yellow daffodil
standing on my kitchen table
whose cut stem draws the water upwards
so the plant is flushed with the conviction

that the water has been sent
to find and raise it up
from somewhere so deep inside the earth
not even flowers can remember.

...Created 2006-03-21 19:40:50

dotsJournal: dots
Mood: The Usual

Kolmarden Zoo
by Bill Coyle

Over our heads, trailing a wake of air
and an enormous shadow as it passed,
the falcon glided to its trainer’s fist
and settled like a loaded weapon there.

Then, while she fed the bird bit after bit
of... what? rabbit? the trainer gave her talk:
These birds, she said, prey on the small and weak,
adding for the children’s benefit

that this, though it seems cruel, is really good
since otherwise the other rabbits, mice,
squirrels, what have you, would run out of space
and die of illness or a lack of food.

I know what she was trying to get across,
and I don’t doubt it would be healthier
if we were more familiar than we are
with how the natural world draws life from loss;

and granted, nothing is more natural
than death incarnate falling from the sky;
and granted, it is better some should die,
however agonizingly, than all.

Still, to teach children this is how things go
is one thing, to insist that it is good
is something else—it is to make a god
of an unsatisfactory status quo,

this vicious circle that the clock hands draw
and quarter, while the serpent bites its tail,
or eats the dust, or strikes at someone’s heel,
or winds up comprehended by a claw.

She launched the bird again. We watched it climb
out of the amphitheatre, headed toward
the darkened spires of a nearby wood,
then bank, then angle toward us one last time.

...Created 2006-03-21 19:30:34

dotsJournal: dots
Mood: The Usual

Stephen Dobyns

An Artist Like Any Other

Let's say a fellow has a little trick—
he can take a rock, toss it about ten feet,

then take another, toss it so it lands on top,
then take a third and toss it on top of that

so all three make a little tower. Each rock
is about the size of a child's fist. Any bigger

or any further or if he tries a fourth, then
it doesn't work. People are impressed,

but how many times can you watch a guy
do a trick like that? Shortly they wander off.

Children last a little longer. The man's wife
asks to see it once a week just to be nice.

His kids say, Give it a break, Dad. Three
rocks twirling through the air and landing

perfectly, time after time. He never misses.
The man feels proud. He'd do it all day long

if anyone cared, but even the dog nods off.
Let's say this is some vestigial blip, like that

occasional tail that nurses snip off newborns.
Once his ancestors tossed huge boulders, built

pyramids, even Stonehenge. You wanted
something really big transported? This was

the guy to do it. How many of these leftovers
do we have left? Cave painters shrunk into

tattoo artists, epic poets whose last sparks ignite
greeting card verse. Just as some day novelists

might morph into the guys who make up menus
for greasy spoons. Today a man flips a stone,

then two more. Presto. See how they join to form
a miniature defiance of the world's natural laws,

a trifling metaphor for the enigmatic? No doubt
about it, the fellow's an artist like any other.

The neighbor's addlepated five-year-old slaps
his head in wonder. At least the first time.

...Created 2006-03-21 19:25:00

dotsJournal: dots
Mood: The Usual

Who the Meek Are Not
Not the bristle-bearded Igors bent
under burlap sacks, not peasants knee-deep
in the rice paddy muck,
nor the serfs whose quarter-moon sickles
make the wheat fall in waves
they don't get to eat. My friend the Franciscan
nun says we misread
that word meek in the Bible verse that blesses them.
To understand the meek
(she says) picture a great stallion at full gallop
in a meadow, who —
at his master's voice — seizes up to a stunned
but instant halt.
So with the strain of holding that great power
in check, the muscles
along the arched neck keep eddying,
and only the velvet ears
prick forward, awaiting the next order.

Mary Karr

...Created 2006-03-02 04:00:50

dotsJournal: dots
Mood: The Usual

A Poem for the End of the Century
Czeslaw Milosz

When everything was fine
And the notion of sin had vanished
And the earth was ready
In universal peace
To consume and rejoice
Without creeds and utopias,

I, for unknown reasons,
Surrounded by the books
Of prophets and theologians,
Of philosophers, poets,
Searched for an answer,
Scowling, grimacing,
Waking up at night, muttering at dawn.

What oppressed me so much
Was a bit shameful.
Talking of it aloud
Would show neither tact nor prudence.
It might even seem an outrage
Against the health of mankind.

Alas, my memory
Does not want to leave me
And in it, live beings
Each with its own pain,
Each with its own dying,
Its own trepidation.

Why then innocence
On paradisal beaches,
An impeccable sky
Over the church of hygiene?
Is it because that
Was long ago?

To a saintly man
--So goes an Arab tale--
God said somewhat maliciously:
"Had I revealed to people
How great a sinner you are,
They could not praise you."

"And I," answered the pious one,
"Had I unveiled to them
How merciful you are,
They would not care for you."

To whom should I turn
With that affair so dark
Of pain and also guilt
In the structure of the world,
If either here below
Or over there on high
No power can abolish
The cause and the effect?

Don't think, don't remember
The death on the cross,
Though everyday He dies,
The only one, all-loving,
Who without any need
Consented and allowed
To exist all that is,
Including nails of torture.

Totally enigmatic.
Impossibly intricate.
Better to stop speech here.
This language is not for people.
Blessed be jubilation.
Vintages and harvests.
Even if not everyone
Is granted serenity.


...Created 2006-02-11 17:01:21

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Mood: The Usual

Margaret Szumowski

The Unlikely Landscape of Forgiveness

The way the land itself forgives flood
and grows huge tomatoes the following year,
shoots from black earth, rows of corn shuddering
in the background. Still there is violence in the land,
bolts of lightning that could set the barn on fire,
and terrify the cows. Anger of the farmer
who turns on his wife and daughters.
Thirsty plants, heavy crops.
He studies his little red notebook.
Children and wife too much
for a man under pressure. He could guard them
jealously, as a red-winged blackbird guards his fields,
letting no one near his beauties. He could peck out their eyes.
And the half-blind beauties will forgive him.

...Created 2006-02-10 03:42:21