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Safe Haven | Jill Bergkamp

“Safe Haven”
Jill Bergkamp

In 1999, Texas became the first state
to adopt a Safe Haven law, which
decriminalized the act of abandoning
unwanted infants and children.

One mother drove from Michigan, past
open prairie, scattered trees, acreage
where quail bones curled under the feet

of snowshoe hares. She drove past
forests, lakes where massasauga snakes
coiled in hibernation, drove until she saw

tall grass and prairie, striped squirrels,
until mourning doves and swallows signaled
the destination. Some mothers said they’d be

right back, and left their children
with sandwiches and carrot sticks.
Some kids were left with nothing as the mothers

sped away. A few children never opened
the hospital doors, instead they ran back
to chase after tail lights. At the highway

entrance one mother cried.
Her jaw opened wide
and all the animals tore out.

We are emergencies | Buddy Wakefield

”We are emergencies”
Buddy Wakefield

We can stick anything into the fog
and make it look like a ghost
but tonight
let us not become tragedies.
We are not funeral homes
with propane tanks in our windows,
lookin’ like cemeteries.
Cemeteries are just the Earth’s way of not letting go.
Let go.
Tonight
let’s turn our silly wrists so far backwards
the razor blades in our pencil tips
can’t get a good angle on all that beauty inside.
Step into this
with your airplane parts.
Move forward
and repeat after me with your heart:
“I no longer need you to fuck me as hard as I hated myself.”
Make love to me
like you know I am better
than the worst thing I ever did.
Go slow.
I’m new to this.
But I have seen nearly every city from a rooftop
without jumping.
I have realized
that the moon
did not have to be full for us to love it,
that we are not tragedies
stranded here beneath it,
that if my heart
really broke
every time I fell from love
I’d be able to offer you confetti by now.
But hearts don’t break,
y’all,
they bruise and get better.
We were never tragedies.
We were emergencies.
You call 9 – 1 – 1.
Tell them I’m having a fantastic time.

Tree Marriage | William Meredith

“Tree Marriage”
William Meredith

In Chota Nagpur and Bengal
the betrothed are tied with threads to
mango trees, they marry the trees
as well as one another, and
the two trees marry each other.
Could we do that some time with oaks
or beeches? This gossamer we
hold each other with, this web
of love and habit is not enough.
In mistrust of heavier ties,
I would like tree-siblings for us,
standing together somewhere, two
trees married with us, lightly, their
fingers barely touching in sleep,
our threads invisible but holding.

Tornado Warning | Joyce Sutphen

“Tornado Warning”
Joyce Sutphen

That is not the country for poetry.
It has no mountains, its flowers
are plain and never poisonous,
its gardens are packed into blue mason jars.
There are no hedges bordering the roads, the sky
flies up from the ditches, loose in every
direction.
         Yet I knew it to be passionate,
even in its low rolling hills, where a red
tractor pushed through the oat field, cutting
down gold straw and beating a stream
of grain into the wagon trailing behind
in the stubble,
         I knew it to be melodious
in its birch woods, leaves shadowing
a stone-strewn river, the path along the bank
softened with pine needles, sunlight
woven in and out of branches, the many
colors of green, solid as a pipe organ’s
opening chord,
         I knew it would haunt
the memory with its single elm,
where a herd of cows found shade
in the July heat, their bony tails
swinging the tufted bristle left and right
over the high ledge of a hip bone,
while at the horizon, a black fist
of storm came on, something not
to be averted, something singular
in its fury,
         as any blind heart knows.

Writing | Judson Mitcham

”Writing”
Judson Mitcham

But prayer was not enough, after all, for my father.
His last two brothers died five weeks apart.
He couldn’t get to sleep, had no appetite, sat
staring. Though he prayed,he could find no peace until he tried
to write about his brothers, tell a story
for each one: Perry’s long travail
with the steamfitters’ union, which he worked for;
and Harvey—here the handwriting changes,
he bears down—Harvey loved his children.

I discovered those few sheets of paper
as I looked through my father’s old Bible
on the morning of his funeral. The others
in the family had seen them long ago;
they had all known the story,
and they told me I had not, most probably, because
I am a writer,
and my father was embarrassed by his effort. Yet
who has seen him as I can: risen

in the middle of the night, bending over
the paper, working close
to the heart of all greatness, he is so lost.
“A Perfect Day is an Act of Faith”
Khan Wong

On holy days the turbulence is more severe.
The pharisees don’t pray for what they need,
but for what they fear. Meanwhile, a telepath

in a forest sets shockwaves on the doctrine’s
received spirits. The spires of the empire quake
in the wake of his exile. How the polished windows

and minarets fracture! This is how he relieves
his affliction — the dreams of others loop
right through his skin. Their serpentine blades skate

across his heart, carve out chunks on the showy jumps.
Sinuous wounds gather and pool until the roiling
dreams burst through and the moon breaks into hail.

Towers topple in the storm. Then time’s plication
and a new version arrives. In his hands, tender
hosannas ward off the imperfection of these days.

Mummies To Burn | Charles Harper Webb

“Mummies To Burn”
Charles Harper Webb

“During a railway expansion in Egypt in the 19th century, construction companies unearthed so many mummies that they used them as locomotive fuel.”

—Discover Magazine, 2006

The companies didn’t think of kas whimpering, “Woe,”
when the bodies where they’d meant to spend eternity
dispersed into the desert wind. Nor did the companies care

how many children weren’t conceived because workmen
pictured their wives among the desecrated dead—
how many woke, shuddering, at night, imagining

the gaping mouth; the yellow, glaring teeth;
the mummy stench. Those were not days (except
in print) for tender sensibilities. Mobs howled

for hangings. Corpses cluttered the streets
in that time of White Man’s Burden—of Drag
the Wogs to Western Ways, and Make Them Pay.

So to the flames the mummies went. Earth
spewed them forth, plentiful as passenger pigeons,
common as the cod that clogged Atlantic seas.

No fear the supply would ever end. No need
to save for tomorrow mummies abundant as air,
mummies good for turning water into steam

to drive the great iron trains that dragged
behind them, in an endless chain of black, shrieking cars,
the Modern Age.

The First Straw | Jeffrey McDaniel

“The First Straw”
Jeffrey McDaniel

I used to think love was two people sucking
on the same straw to see whose thirst was stronger,
but then I whiffed the crushed walnuts of your nape,
traced jackals in the snow-covered tombstones of your teeth.
I used to think love was a non-stop saxophone solo
in the lungs, till I hung with you like a pair of sneakers
from a phone line, and you promised to always smell
the rose in my kerosene. I used to think love was terminal
pelvic ballet, till you let me jog beside while you pedaled
all over hell on the menstrual bicycle, your tongue
ripping through my prairie like a tornado of paper cuts.
I used to think love was an old man smashing a mirror
over his knee, till you helped me carry the barbell
of my spirit back up the stairs after my car pirouetted
in the desert. You are my history book. I used to not believe
in fairy tales till I played the dunce in sheep’s clothing
and felt how perfectly your foot fit in the glass slipper
of my ass. But then duty wrapped its phone cord
around my ankle and yanked me across the continent.
And now there are three thousand miles between the u
and the s in esophagus. And being without you is like standing
at a cement-filled well with a roll of Yugoslavian nickels
and making a wish. Some days I miss you so much
I’d jump off the roof of your office building
just to catch a glimpse of you on the way down. I wish
we could trade left eyeballs, so we could always see
what the others see. But you’re here, I’m there,
and we have only words, a nightly phone call–one chance
to mix feelings into syllables and pour into the receiver,
hope they don’t disassemble in that calculus of wire.
And lately–with this whole war thing–the language machine
supporting it–I feel betrayed by the alphabet, like they’re
injecting strychnine into my vowels, infecting my consonants,
naming attack helicopters after shattered Indian tribes:
Apache, Blackhawk; and West Bank colonizers are settlers,
so Sharon is Davey Crockett, and Arafat: Geronimo,
and it’s the Wild West all over again. And I imagine Picasso
looking in a mirror, decorating his face in war paint,
washing his brushes in venom, and I think of Jenin
in all that rubble, and I feel like a Cyclops with two eyes,
like an anorexic with three mouths, like a scuba diver
in quicksand, like a shark with plastic vampire teeth,
like I’m the executioner’s fingernail trying to reason
with the hand. And I don’t know how to speak love
when the heart is a busted cup filling with spit and paste,
and the only sexual fantasy I have is busting
into the Pentagon with a bazooka-sized pen and blowing
open the minds of generals. And I comfort myself
with the thought that we’ll name our first child Jenin,
and her middle name will be Terezin, and we’ll teach her
how to glow in the dark, and how to swallow firecrackers,
and to never neglect the first straw, because no one
ever talks about the first straw, it’s always the last straw
that gets all the attention, but by then it’s way too late.

The Love-Hat Relationship | Aaron Belz

“The Love-Hat Relationship”
Aaron Belz

I have been thinking about the love-hat relationship.
It is the relationship based on love of another’s hats.
The problem with the love-hat relationship is that it is superficial.
You don’t necessarily even know the other person.
Also it is too dependent on whether the other person
is even wearing the favored hat. We all enjoy hats,
but they’re not something to build an entire relationship on.
My advice to young people is to like hats but not love them.
Try having like-hat relationships with one another.
See if you can find something interesting about
the personality of the person whose hat you like.

Revenge | Taha Muhammad Ali

“Revenge”
Taha Muhammad Ali

At times … I wish
I could meet in a duel
the man who killed my father
and razed our home,
expelling me
into
a narrow country.
And if he killed me,
I’d rest at last,
and if I were ready—
I would take my revenge!
*
But if it came to light,
when my rival appeared,
that he had a mother
waiting for him,
or a father who’d put
his right hand over
the heart’s place in his chest
whenever his son was late
even by just a quarter-hour
for a meeting they’d set—
then I would not kill him,
even if I could.
*
Likewise … I
would not murder him
if it were soon made clear
that he had a brother or sisters
who loved him and constantly longed to see him.
Or if he had a wife to greet him
and children who
couldn’t bear his absence
and whom his gifts would thrill.
Or if he had
friends or companions,
neighbors he knew
or allies from prison
or a hospital room,
or classmates from his school …
asking about him
and sending him regards.
*
But if he turned
out to be on his own—
cut off like a branch from a tree—
without a mother or father,
with neither a brother nor sister,
wifeless, without a child,
and without kin or neighbors or friends,
colleagues or companions,
then I’d add not a thing to his pain
within that aloneness—
not the torment of death,
and not the sorrow of passing away.
Instead I’d be content
to ignore him when I passed him by
on the street—as I
convinced myself
that paying him no attention
in itself was a kind of revenge.
Nazareth
April 15, 2006

translated by Peter Cole, Yahya Hijazi, and Gabriel Levin

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poetry, exceptindreams
exceptindreams
a poem some days

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