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Life is Fine | Langston Hughes

“Life is Fine”
Langston Hughes

I went down to the river,
I set down on the bank.
I tried to think but couldn’t,
So I jumped in and sank.

I came up once and hollered!
I came up twice and cried!
If that water hadn’t a-been so cold
I might’ve sunk and died.

    But it was      Cold in that water!      It was cold!

I took the elevator
Sixteen floors above the ground.
I thought about my baby
And thought I would jump down.

I stood there and I hollered!
I stood there and I cried!
If it hadn’t a-been so high
I might’ve jumped and died.

    But it was      High up there!      It was high!

So since I’m still here livin’,
I guess I will live on.
I could’ve died for love—
But for livin’ I was born

Though you may hear me holler,
And you may see me cry—
I’ll be dogged, sweet baby,
If you gonna see me die.

    Life is fine!      Fine as wine!      Life is fine!
“The Tongue Says Loneliness”
Jane Hirshfield

The tongue says loneliness, anger, grief,
but does not feel them.
As Monday cannot feel Tuesday,
nor Thursday
reach back to Wednesday
as a mother reaches out for her found child.
As this life is not a gate, but the horse plunging through it.
Not a bell,
but the sound of the bell in the bell-shape,
lashing full strength with the first blow from inside the iron.

Quarantine, 1918 | Faith Shearin

“Quarantine, 1918″
Faith Shearin

There were towns
that knew about the flu before
it arrived; they had time to imagine the germs
on a stranger’s skirts, to see how death
could be sealed in an envelope,
how a fever could bloom in the evening,
and take a life overnight.
A few villages, deep in the mountains,
posted guards on their roads,
and no one was allowed to come or go,
not even a grandmother carrying a cake;
no mail was accepted and all the words
and packages families sent
to one another went unopened,
unanswered. Trains were told
not to stop, so they glowed for a moment
before swaying
towards some other place. The food
at the corner store never came
from out of town and no one went
to see a distant auntie
or state fair. For awhile, the outside world
existed in imagination, in memory,
in books or suitcases, deep in closets.
There was nothing but the town itself,
hiding from what was possible,
and the children cutting dolls
from paper, their scissors sharp.

Prayer at Sunrise | James Weldon Johnson

“Prayer at Sunrise”
James Weldon Johnson

O mighty, powerful, dark-dispelling sun,
Now thou art risen, and thy day begun.
How shrink the shrouding mists before thy face,
As up thou spring’st to thy diurnal race!
How darkness chases darkness to the west,
As shades of light on light rise radiant from thy crest!
For thee, great source of strength, emblem of might,
In hours of darkest gloom there is no night.
Thou shinest on though clouds hide thee from sight,
And through each break thou sendest down thy light.

O greater Maker of this Thy great sun,
Give me the strength this one day’s race to run,
Fill me with light, fill me with sun-like strength,
Fill me with joy to rob the day its length.
Light from within, light that will outward shine,
Strength to make strong some weaker heart than mine,
Joy to make glad each soul that feels its touch;
Great Father of the sun, I ask this much.

Disappointment | Tony Hoagland

“Disappointment”
Tony Hoagland

I was feeling pretty religious
standing on the bridge in my winter coat
looking down at the gray water:
the sharp little waves dusted with snow,
fish in their tin armor.

That’s what I like about disappointment:
the way it slows you down,
when the querulous insistent chatter of desire
goes dead calm

and the minor roadside flowers
pronounce their quiet colors,
and the red dirt of the hillside glows.

She played the flute, he played the fiddle
and the moon came up over the barn.
Then he didn’t get the job, -
or her father died before she told him
that one, most important thing-

and everything got still.

It was February or October
It was July
I remember it so clear
You don’t have to pursue anything ever again
It’s over
You’re free
You’re unemployed

You just have to stand there
looking out on the water
in your trench coat of solitude
with your scarf of resignation
lifting in the wind.

Reminders | Jeanne Lohmann

“Reminders”
Jeanne Lohmann

You said you’d pick up cheese
at Lucca’s in the Mission, came home
with fresh-cut Sonoma Jack, aged Swiss,
that delicious creamy goat cheese we
spread on bagels at breakfast.

Let’s go again, both of us,
to San Francisco, buy a loaf
of Boudin’s sourdough rye,
pack a basket of bread and cheese,
fruit, a bottle of red wine,
and head for the park. We can feast
on wet gray fog, our old happiness
breaking through like sunshine.
“Mother Talks Back to the Monster”
Carrie Shipers

Tonight, I dressed my son in astronaut pajamas,
kissed his forehead and tucked him in.
I turned on his night-light and looked for you
in the closet and under the bed. I told him

you were nowhere to be found, but I could smell
your breath, your musty fur. I remember
all your tricks: the jagged shadows on the wall,
click of your claws, the hand that hovered

just above my ankles if I left them exposed.
Since I became a parent I see danger everywhere—
unleashed dogs, sudden fevers, cereal
two days out of date. And even worse

than feeling so much fear is keeping it inside,
trying not to let my love become so tangled
with anxiety my son thinks they’re the same.
When he says he’s seen your tail or heard

your heavy step, I insist that you aren’t real.
Soon he’ll feel too old to tell me his bad dreams.
If you get lonely after he’s asleep, you can
always come downstairs. I’ll be sitting

at the kitchen table with the dishes
I should wash, crumbs I should wipe up.
We can drink hot tea and talk about
the future, how hard it is to be outgrown.

Ali! Ali! | Khaled Mattawa

“Ali! Ali!”
Khaled Mattawa

It’s late and your heart skips watching
that young man fight. The Garden, the left
jab lashes like a frog’s tongue catching
a fly. There you go again with an undeft

image to his arthropod conceit. You know he’ll win,
an old victory. They hate him there, sore
that he joined your faith, a strapping boy, skin
hairless almost feminine. He’d kept you up before,

your father waking you at dawn to watch the thrilla,
the rumble, even the shamble in Nagasaki
fighting a wrestler, a prone Japanese guerrilla,
bruising the elegant legs. What was he

telling you then in that unplanned night shift?
That there’s honor in defeat, that you’d get your chance?
The referee says, “Alright boys,” and you drift
to Ralph Allison’s blind nightmarish dance.

The doctor checks Jones’s right eye, but the crowd
boos him. There’d been a scandal in slow mo.
No one wants a dead man shouting aloud
maricon! At the end of round five, he’s slow

and you want to lead him back to his corner
though you know he’ll win, a knockout,
probably, but he wastes two rounds looking for
a strong straight right as Banks flouts

a second wind. Then in a flash—you’re about
to adjust the volume or put a dish away—
Cooper is a cyclops, blood oozing out
of his one open eye, swinging wildly

like a wounded spider. Lyle’s coach protests.
Years later he’ll do the rope-a-dope to declaim
on purgatory. And later yet, in an airport
he writes a dedication to you, signs his name,

on a leaflet, “Life After Death.” Tonight again
your beloved brother squeaks by, a TKO.
His victory’s slower, but that’s where he’ll remain,
a light in your heart that never ceased to glow.

Here In The Psalm | Sally Fisher

“Here In The Psalm”
Sally Fisher

I am a sheep
and I like it
because the grass
I lie down in
feels good and the still
waters are restful and right
there if I’m thirsty
and though some valleys
are very chilly there is a long
rod that prods me so I
direct my hooves
the right way
though today
I’m trying hard
to sit at a table
because it’s expected
required really
and my enemies—
it turns out I have enemies—
are watching me eat and
spill my drink
but I don’t worry because
all my enemies do
is watch and I know
I’m safe if I will
just do my best
as I sit on this chair
that wobbles a bit
in the grass
on the side of a hill.

On the Back Porch | Dorianne Laux

“On the Back Porch”
Dorianne Laux

The cat calls for her dinner.
On the porch I bend and pour
brown soy stars into her bowl,
stroke her dark fur.
It’s not quite night.
Pinpricks of light in the eastern sky.
Above my neighbor’s roof, a transparent
moon, a pink rag of cloud.
Inside my house are those who love me.
My daughter dusts biscuit dough.
And there’s a man who will lift my hair
in his hands, brush it
until it throws sparks.
Everything is just as I’ve left it.
Dinner simmers on the stove.
Glass bowls wait to be filled
with gold broth. Sprigs of parsley
on the cutting board.
I want to smell this rich soup, the air
around me going dark, as stars press
their simple shapes into the sky.
I want to stay on the back porch
while the world tilts
toward sleep, until what I love
misses me, and calls me in.

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poetry, exceptindreams
exceptindreams
a poem some days

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