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Seeing the Body | Rachel Eliza Griffiths

“Seeing the Body”
Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Not hers but mine. Not hers ever again. Ever
hers, my body pulled through, two
long windows open in the dark of birth,
the gold cord raised too in its wake. Awake,
the first morning. The first morning & all,
all the windows were closed inside. A blindness
scalding broken sight. The silence pulled through
my nostrils & veins, the ether of air failing
flesh. I get up from the shape I once was
& open the white blinds in my brother’s house.
The light is specific. It is the 29th morning
of July. Last night they dragged me howling from her
body in the room. The room had a name,
number 3315, in the cardiac wing. In the room
I saw her winged shape leave, rise, forgive the
vessel that fled her. Now mine or ours, I
stare in the mirror while everyone sleeps
the aggrieved sleep of the living. Behind my eyes
a dead woman looks back at me with no trace
of recognition. I say “Mother” & my own
feral mouth opens. Closes without any light.


Read more of Rachel Eliza Griffiths’s poetry in Lighting the Shadow

The Prayer | Rachel Rose

“The Prayer”
Rachel Rose

In the morning I prayed the prayer of thanks
for having not been made a man.
I prayed the prayer of the unbeliever
which required that I bite the hand that feeds me.
It was the morning of the first day. I said Kaddish
for the dead and the undead. Which is to say
living. Which is to say my own hand, owned
by mine teeth. How I prayed for belief!
It was the evening of the first day
and I prayed the prayer of thanks
for having been made to bleed.

I lacked the genetic code for piousness.
It was the second day. What do you know? Sunrise!
I prayed the prayer of thanks for having not been made
a Christian. Which is to say known entity.
It was a long day, the second day. No moon.
I prayed in bed with you for the second
coming. I took the Lord’s name in vain.
Which is to say I spake it in passion.
Which is to say I linked my body to the holy war
of creation. Who shall forgive whom?

The third day was a dawn of rain.
All day white mushrooms bloomed in the wet leaves.
My grief was like unto the fungus spreading leagues underground
but all that emerged were those white fingers pressing
through the grave of earth. Let there be sleep, you said
and I slept.

The fourth day was an eclipse in the temple.
I prayed on my knees to the gold circlet of darkness
that had once been the sun. I prayed in the four directions
and burned the four sacrificial hearts, read the ash
for clues. As the smoke rose
the waters rose in the four directions.
No prayer could cool that benediction of heat
and I believed, at least, in fire.

It was the morning of the fifth day
and I prayed the prayer of thanks for having not been born
a lamb. As we ate you wiped my bloodied lips with linen.
We lifted our goblets of light and smashed them on the tabernacle.
Which is to say we prayed the prayer of those who have drunk
to abandon themselves. Which is to say we became unrecognizable
to each other. Which is to say I’m sorry I was unfaithful
though I remember little of the act. Your body was a shrine
but I went through the wrong gate.

We were glad for the sixth day.
We were hungover with effort and joy. Which is to say
we prayed the prayer of children on a treasure hunt.
I said the words of thanks to God for not having made me gold.
Night was a relief. I stared through the darkness
at the domes of mosques.

On the seventh day we could not rest. You paced the dawn.
I sang the scream of beaten women. You wailed at the wall. I kissed
the bronze knife of the Goddess. You ripped the sacred garments.
I served the breasts and miracles
on a platter of relics. You lit the joss sticks
and copied the sutras by hand.
I plucked the eyes from the vine
caught the stones in my mouth. I said the prayer
of thanks for not having to be reborn. Which
is to say Ash. Which is to say Amen.

From Marry & Burn by Rachel Rose 

Being Happy | Dana Gioia

”Being Happy”
Dana Gioia

Of course it was doomed. I know that now,
but it ended so quickly, and I was young.
I hardly remember that summer in Seattle—
except for her. The city seems just a rainy backdrop.
From the moment I first saw her at the office
I was hooked. I started visiting her floor.

I couldn’t work unless I caught a glimpse of her.
Once we exchanged glances, but we never spoke.
Then at a party we found ourselves alone.
We started kissing and ended up in bed.
We talked all night. She claimed she had liked me
secretly for months. I wonder now if that was true.

Two weeks later her father had a heart attack.
While she was in Chicago, they shut down our division.
I was never one for writing letters.
On the phone we had less to say each time.
And that was it—just those two breathless weeks,
then years of mild regret and intermittent speculation.

Being happy is mostly like that. You don’t see it up close.
You recognize it later from the ache of memory.
And you can’t recapture it. You only get to choose
whether to remember or forget, whether to feel remorse
or nothing at all. Maybe it wasn’t really love.
But who can tell when nothing deeper ever came along?

From 99 Poems: New & Selected by Dana Gioia

Hurt Hawk | Robinson Jeffers

”Hurt Hawk”
Robinson Jeffers


The broken pillar of the wing jags from the clotted shoulder,
The wing trails like a banner in defeat,
No more to use the sky forever but live with famine
And pain a few days: cat nor coyote
Will shorten the week of waiting for death, there is game without talons.
He stands under the oak-bush and waits
The lame feet of salvation; at night he remembers freedom
And flies in a dream, the dawns ruin it.
He is strong and pain is worse to the strong, incapacity is worse.
The curs of the day come and torment him
At distance, no one but death the redeemer will humble that head,
The intrepid readiness, the terrible eyes.
The wild God of the world is sometimes merciful to those
That ask mercy, not often to the arrogant.
You do not know him, you communal people, or you have forgotten him;
Intemperate and savage, the hawk remembers him;
Beautiful and wild, the hawks, and men that are dying, remember him.
I’d sooner, except the penalties, kill a man than a hawk;
but the great redtail
Had nothing left but unable misery
From the bone too shattered for mending, the wing that trailed under his talons when he moved.
We had fed him six weeks, I gave him freedom,
He wandered over the foreland hill and returned in the evening, asking for death,
Not like a beggar, still eyed with the old
Implacable arrogance.
I gave him the lead gift in the twilight.
What fell was relaxed, Owl-downy, soft feminine feathers; but what
Soared: the fierce rush: the night-herons by the flooded river cried fear at its rising
Before it was quite unsheathed from reality.
from The Wild God of the World: An Anthology of Robinson Jeffers by Robinson Jeffers
”Our Beautiful Life When It’s Filled With Shrieks”
Christopher Citro

I’m doing a balancing act with a stack of fresh fruit
in my basket. I love you. I want us both to eat well.
We’re not allowed to buy blackberries anymore
because they’re mean to their workers and you
read left-wing news sites. Till when? I asked and you
said nothing. So that’s one healthy food off the list.
I’m still buying pineapples and you’re still eating them.
I guess you’ve never seen the websites about those.
Nobody in this supermarket knows that I am a puma.
This morning our cat rolled on the floor showing me
her belly which I leaned down and rubbed.
Beneath a backyard pine tree the neighbor’s cat
was eating one of our cat’s moles—at least the moles
we rent from the landlord for her. It’s so complicated
staying alive sometimes. The voices of the collection
agencies on the answering machine sound menacing.
They’re paid to sound that way and they’re not paid
much more than the people they’re menacing,
which can get you thinking if you’re the sort of
person who likes to think about that sort of thing.
Other people subscribe to adventure cycling
magazines and read about men who rode across
Turkey in the late 1800s before anything was
happening in the world. Before cantaloupes
probably existed. When you could get an honest
wage for an honest day’s blackberries. When we
loved like fierce mountain storms, with the blood
of eagles in our hearts, exchanging grocery lists
that just said you you you you all the way down.

Read more of Christopher Citro’s poetry in The Maintenance of the ShimmyShammy 
“My Mother Worries About My Hat”
Richard Jarrette

Every spring my mother says I should buy a straw 
hat so I won’t overheat in summer.

I always agree but the valley’s soon cold, and besides
my old Borsalino is nearly rain-proof.

She’s at it again, it’s August, the grapes are sugaring.
I say, Okay, and pluck a little spider from her hair—

hair so fine it can’t hold even one of her grandmother's 
tortoise shell combs.

From A Hundred Million Years of Nectar Dances by Richard Jarrette

Poem About My Rights | June Jordan

“Poem about My Rights"
June Jordan

Even tonight and I need to take a walk and clear
my head about this poem about why I can’t
go out without changing my clothes my shoes
my body posture my gender identity my age
my status as a woman alone in the evening/
alone on the streets/alone not being the point/
the point being that I can’t do what I want
to do with my own body because I am the wrong
sex the wrong age the wrong skin and
suppose it was not here in the city but down on the beach/
or far into the woods and I wanted to go
there by myself thinking about God/or thinking
about children or thinking about the world/all of it
disclosed by the stars and the silence:
I could not go and I could not think and I could not
stay there
as I need to be
alone because I can’t do what I want to do with my own
body and
who in the hell set things up
like this
and in France they say if the guy penetrates
but does not ejaculate then he did not rape me
and if after stabbing him if after screams if
after begging the bastard and if even after smashing
a hammer to his head if even after that if he
and his buddies fuck me after that
then I consented and there was
no rape because finally you understand finally
they fucked me over because I was wrong I was
wrong again to be me being me where I was/wrong
to be who I am
which is exactly like South Africa
penetrating into Namibia penetrating into
Angola and does that mean I mean how do you know if
Pretoria ejaculates what will the evidence look like the
proof of the monster jackboot ejaculation on Blackland
and if
after Namibia and if after Angola and if after Zimbabwe
and if after all of my kinsmen and women resist even to
self-immolation of the villages and if after that
we lose nevertheless what will the big boys say will they
claim my consent:
Do You Follow Me: We are the wrong people of
the wrong skin on the wrong continent and what
in the hell is everybody being reasonable about
and according to the Times this week
back in 1966 the C.I.A. decided that they had this problem
and the problem was a man named Nkrumah so they
killed him and before that it was Patrice Lumumba
and before that it was my father on the campus
of my Ivy League school and my father afraid
to walk into the cafeteria because he said he
was wrong the wrong age the wrong skin the wrong
gender identity and he was paying my tuition and
before that
it was my father saying I was wrong saying that
I should have been a boy because he wanted one/a
boy and that I should have been lighter skinned and
that I should have had straighter hair and that
I should not be so boy crazy but instead I should
just be one/a boy and before that          
it was my mother pleading plastic surgery for
my nose and braces for my teeth and telling me
to let the books loose to let them loose in other
I am very familiar with the problems of the C.I.A.
and the problems of South Africa and the problems
of Exxon Corporation and the problems of white
America in general and the problems of the teachers
and the preachers and the F.B.I. and the social
workers and my particular Mom and Dad/I am very
familiar with the problems because the problems
turn out to be
I am the history of rape
I am the history of the rejection of who I am
I am the history of the terrorized incarceration of
I am the history of battery assault and limitless
armies against whatever I want to do with my mind
and my body and my soul and
whether it’s about walking out at night
or whether it’s about the love that I feel or
whether it’s about the sanctity of my vagina or
the sanctity of my national boundaries
or the sanctity of my leaders or the sanctity
of each and every desire
that I know from my personal and idiosyncratic
and indisputably single and singular heart
I have been raped
cause I have been wrong the wrong sex the wrong age
the wrong skin the wrong nose the wrong hair the
wrong need the wrong dream the wrong geographic
the wrong sartorial I
I have been the meaning of rape
I have been the problem everyone seeks to
eliminate by forced
penetration with or without the evidence of slime and/
but let this be unmistakable this poem
is not consent I do not consent
to my mother to my father to the teachers to
the F.B.I. to South Africa to Bedford-Stuy
to Park Avenue to American Airlines to the hardon
idlers on the corners to the sneaky creeps in
carsI am not wrong: Wrong is not my name
My name is my own my own my own
and I can’t tell you who the hell set things up like this
but I can tell you that from now on my resistance
my simple and daily and nightly self-determination
may very well cost you your life

from Directed by Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan

There Will Be Things You Do | Kim Dower

“There Will Be Things You Do”

Kim Dower

you won’t know why.
Maybe waiting to tie
your shoelaces

until everything else
is in place.
Could be you’ll slide

your egg yolks aside
eat every bit of bacon,
toast, whites while the forsaken

yellow orbs stare at you
from the side pocket
of your empty plate.

People will askwhy do you save
your yolks for last

and you won’t know—
won’t recall
the cousin from the south

came to visit one summer
ate his eggs so odd
your family said

stuck with you
like the way
you love to be kissed

on the back of your neck
can vaguely recollect
your mother’s kisses

after your bath
too gentle for memory.
There will be things you do

you won’t know why
like the way you look
up at the sky

when anxious or blue
it’s what your father
used to do

every family trip
when nothing else
was right

except those clouds
moving north by northwest
through the night

he showed you
what pilots knew:factors for safe flying

are visibility
and how low
and mean the clouds are.
“Olives, Bread, Honey and Salt”
Melissa Stein
The lanes are littered with the bodies of bees.
A torrent took them, swarming in branches
just as the white buds loosened their hearts
of pale yellow powder. Each body is a lover:
the one with skin blank as pages; the one
so moved by the pulse ticking in your throat;
the one who took your lips in his teeth
and wouldn’t let go; the one who turned
from you and lay there like a carcass. If we were
made to be whole, we wouldn’t be so lost
to each offering of tenderness and a story.
Therefore our greatest longing is our home.
There is always the one bee that circles and circles,
twitching its sodden wings. 

from Rough Honey by Melissa Stein

On the Metro | C. K. Williams

“On the Metro”
C.K. Williams

On the metro, I have to ask a young woman to move the packages beside her to make room for me;
she’s reading, her foot propped on the seat in front of her, and barely looks up as she pulls them to her.
I sit, take out my own book—Cioran, The Temptation to Exist—and notice her glancing up from hers
to take in the title of mine, and then, as Gombrowicz puts it, she “affirms herself physically,” that is,
becomes present in a way she hadn’t been before: though she hasn’t moved, she’s allowed herself
to come more sharply into focus, be more accessible to my sensual perception, so I can’t help but remark
her strong figure and very tan skin—(how literally golden young women can look at the end of summer.)
She leans back now, and as the train rocks and her arm brushes mine she doesn’t pull it away;
she seems to be allowing our surfaces to unite: the fine hairs on both our forearms, sensitive, alive,
achingly alive, bring news of someone touched, someone sensed, and thus acknowledged, known.
I understand that in no way is she offering more than this, and in truth I have no desire for more,
but it’s still enough for me to be taken by a surge, first of warmth then of something like its opposite:
a memory—a girl I’d mooned for from afar, across the table from me in the library in school now,
our feet I thought touching, touching even again, and then, with all I craved that touch to mean,
my having to realize it wasn’t her flesh my flesh for that gleaming time had pressed, but a table leg.
The young woman today removes her arm now, stands, swaying against the lurch of the slowing train,
and crossing before me brushes my knee and does that thing again, asserts her bodily being again,
(Gombrowicz again), then quickly moves to the door of the car and descends, not once looking back,
(to my relief not looking back), and I allow myself the thought that though I must be to her again
as senseless as that table of my youth, as wooden, as unfeeling, perhaps there was a moment I was not.


poetry, exceptindreams
a poem some days

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