Poetry | April 2022 | Poetry | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
The Lovers

Vlad, my friend, my friend Vlad, told me that I can’t write poems about lovers. That the use of the word lover is strictly prohibited. How it came about is I had a line in a poem. Something like
          Heaven sighs down the neck of your coat
          Like a lover holding you from behind

which, fair enough, is pretty boilerplate poetic sentimentality. What was happening was me and Vlad were in his studio drinking a big bottle of sake. I had about 100 of my poems printed up and spread out all over the big wooden table. We were taking the red pen to them, moving lines, cutting stanzas and drinking sake. He saw that line and he cut it right out. He said, “No lovers and no mothers.” Myself, I might throw the moon into that category, but I love the moon, I try to see it every night, and I write about it often, things like

          The moon filled the hole
          like cold milk in a glass.

which is a good line I think. But what I’m writing now isn’t about lovers really, it’s about volcanoes. It’s about two volcanoes outside of Mexico City that I saw as a boy and it is also about being a boy in Mexico City. It is about Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl, which are the Nahua names for the Volcanoes.

Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl were lovers, I will admit that. I’ll tell you the story now. Izta was a princess and Popo was a warrior and they were in love. When the southern border of the Aztec empire was under threat, Poco was sent to war by the Emperor. The Emperor told Poco that he could have Izta’s hand in marriage when he returned from the war. Well, somehow the news of Poco’s death made it back up to Tenochtitlan. And let me tell you, Izta was heartbroken. She was so heartbroken that she could not bear to live anymore, not in a world without her handsome, beloved Poco, and so she did herself with a jade knife, her bright blood spilling onto the palace floor like a rose blooming in milk. Here’s the kicker though. Poco was not dead. There had been some kind of mix-up. Poco returned from the war to find the light of his world had been extinguished. He went out to her grave at the edge of the kingdom and keened to the heavens like a wild cat. Well the gods heard him and they came down and they turned both Poco and Izta into mountains. Izta sleeps and Poco rages, spewing fire and smoke in his grief.

But this isn’t about that. This is about something else. It’s about being a young man, a boy, walking on dirt roads outside of the city drinking pulque. It’s about dust clouds getting pulled up into the air from fallow fields and watching them swirl around and disappear. It’s about the young campesinos and their shiny boots

          and the burros with the gas cans
                 full of mezcal

                      and all the Indians
                                              getting us drunk

so drunk you pissed your shorts
                                                      fell asleep with your hand in your soup
            the moon big and fat
                                    white like milk

                           a girl with a cricket in her mouth
                                         chirping like lovers

                                                 in a house made of snow
—John Joe Kane

Summering in the Winter

I’m sorry
but I feel
like February
and you can’t
convince me
to be more like June
and by the way
I am going to get
all Monday on you
if you don’t keep
acting like
Friday night
when you know
damn well
this may be noon
but what you just
said is so midnight
and by that I don’t
mean moonlight
and spirits
no I mean you
have turned
what was pure
nineties magic
and made it
year two-thousand
and tragic
—Ivan Jenson

Certain Now

The clock is tall,
Old as stars and thunderous
As a heart
With a golden tongue
To tell the hours,
And iron fingers
Consuming toward
—Jennifer Wise

A Haiku for Mondays

Shifting of deadlines
Like the changing of the guard
has a well-worn course
—Jaclyn C. Stevenson

A Lesson in Kinetics

While bushwhacking this morning
my mentor took a tumble
after gaining much momentum
down grade too steep for his knees.
I watched him land his dive
tossing his cane to the side
as he plowed into the dirt.
Starting but soon stopping
a woodland jog
I helped him
in the kindest way
by showing the teacher
what the pupil has learned:
I let him rise
on his own
and brush the leaves
from his beard.
—Mike Vahsen

The Answer

By now, you think you know what there is to know.
What you don’t know, you never will know.
It is not new that the tides are turning,
or this time is different.
The answer, still the same;
wear your usual yellow shirt like goldenrod,
go through the day, do not try to find out
how sunflowers turn their heads.
All you need,
not thousands of unanswered humming sounds,
hovering overhead.
Just heed the mockingbird’s sermon.
and harken the tappings
of the raven.
—Livingston Rossmoor

Like Finding New Oceans

as a trumpet vine grabs
onto every available surface,
on arbors, fences, telephone poles,
and trees, you wrapped your tendrils
into my yellow throat and made the world
feel closer than it ever has. Unmediated
by the veil of what we think we know,
I kissed you. Together we became unfamiliar.
—George Cassidy Payne

Soon It Will Be Spring

Soon it will be spring.
Do you know how strong spring is?
Do you know how strong it is to do what it does?
Of course you know.
You have seen spring before.
You have watched spring at work many times.
How it has to have the strength of a thousand winters
to wrestle winter to the ground,
then strangle winter with its bare hands,
then smother winter with whatever it finds at hand,
with snowdrops and crocus, to be certain,
then dig winter’s grave deep in the ground,
so deep in the ground that winter will not stir again
until next winter.
And it has only its bare hand, mind you, with which to do this.
Tell me, have you ever dug a hole with your bare hands?
I don’t mean a hole for a tulip,
I mean a whole big enough to bury winter in?
This is how strong spring has to be.
And spring does this all alone.
It gets no help, not from us,
No, not from us who merely stand around, cheering.
—J. R. Solonche

Phillip X Levine

Phillip X Levine has been poetry editor for Chronogram magazine since June 2003. He is also the president of the Woodstock Poetry Society. "All the people I was going to be when I grew up - they're still here"
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