—Phillip X Levine, Poetry Editor
I feel almost like an ax
Has split my head in half.
Part wants this,
Part wants that.
—Rosa Weisberg (10 years)
its wings a lustrous pine bark gray
& black, gone still as bark (wrong place, wrong reason)—
a small death that stopped my broom. Tweezing it
with finger & thumb, I set it for study on a stack of books,
flattering myself: adroitly limned in a sonnet
moth or twig? asks the sparrow—
I’d make it live to tip and flutter in the concluding couplet,
its immortality sealed in a perfect rhyme.
Now, look: some furious dust-up
overnight, and pitiless dismemberment—
bits and flakes of dusky wing scattered like a note
torn up in pique, as if to say:
Go on, write your sonnet.
The Paper Boy
My father likes to reminisce about his paper route when he was 10.
Up every day at dawn,
he’d carefully roll each edition of the Paterson Evening News
and fit them snuggly into the front basket of his blue bike with balloon tires,
able to jump curbs and ride the bumpy shortcut paths
through neighborhood fields.
In summer, the grass was high.
A kid could get an old 50-foot clothesline,
tie it to his dog Rex,
walk out together to the end of the rope
and lie in warm grass,
his young boy’s perplexities wandering away with the clouds.
His whole life was patiently waiting,
but he could only imagine the copious ice cream sodas
his weekly dollar would bring.
I wonder if an old lady like me ever saw him riding by
one fine morning and saw the man he was to become.
Could she see the generations he would sire?
Could she see the joys and the profound sorrows that awaited him?
Could she see him at 90 slowly fading
and know that this boy never gave a thought to getting old?
Could she see a lifetime of infinite possibilities,
like I do now,
in a 10-year-old kid with a bicycle basket full of papers
racing by on this glorious summer morning?
Pressure comes from the responsibility that can
Overwhelm; drown those ill-equipped for the flow that
Washes over them. The struggle becomes daily battle over time as
Empires have fallen due to imbalance, instability,
Rescuing poor; helping themselves? The struggle consistently
Saps weaker souls; yet strengthens communities.
You’re all smoke and jazz
deep kiss and dark hair
whiskey-burned bright hazel eyes
You’re all sex and sass
rainy street and reckless drive
over-slept Monday mornings
You’re all sugar and sweat
drunk call and dirty joke
bruise-covered bloody knees
You’re all mine and murderous
smoldering hot and slow grin
voice-cracked three a.m. moans
There is a hide on the peninsula
where you can view owls.
I love to watch them roost
and blink their barmy eyes
and swivel their perfect heads.
That a creature so cuddly
could be a killer
mystifies me. But
the bush is littered
with their murdering.
—Robert James Berry
Birds petition the air
for small favors: I take your hand
into a world
even the wind can’t refuse….
Day-to-Day (A Collection of Haikus)
He turned and told me,
“Life is full of surprises,”
as a robin flew.
so I always smear my work.
The words bleed and blend.
Bird Is the Word
crows came back
to pick up
maybe that’s why
Moving to New York
moving to New York
and moving away from New York
are the only moves
So stupid today
Losing my temper again
Sitting here alone
The Fame Game
The guy in first class looks familiar.
As in somebody famous.
I just caught a glimpse
as I headed for my seat in economy.
Movies. TV. The news.
No name comes to my lips.
It’s still bugging me
when I’m buckled in
and perusing the Sky Mall catalog.
There’s no one I can ask.
Stewardesses are more concerned
with the privacy of others
than my curiosity.
So from Providence to Charlotte,
I spend ninety minutes
rolling films and sitcoms,
dramas and recent big news stories,
through my brain.
By the time I deplane
he’s already in his limo.
By the times he’s in his limo,
I’m still scratching my head.
That’s the problem
with celebrities in this country.
Not only is the guy more famous than I am,
he even knows who he is.
Rendezvous (A Dream)
We meet at an outdoor cafe, you
decades younger than we are now,
in full summer skirt and short hair
(the new Gina Lolobrigida style)
seated and anxious
smoking an anachronistic cigarette
You radiate fight-or-flight.
Bobby is dead.
I order small plates of olives, bread
An older man at the next table smiles
at us (mostly you).
He is debonair, seems kind.
I step inside to pay the tab, and
when I return you
The man does not look at me
I know that
Daddy is dead,
and you, my mom, don’t drink wine.
Nothing like tiny,
Shy and lonely wild flowers
Winking from the roadside.
Early morn cock crows.
Again, again, and again—
Unfashionably Late to a Funeral
It’s no wonder
that the full moon affects us
drawn like the tide.
that we’re 60% water
the rest mostly corn.
“Split the difference,”
the scientists would say
if they’d been born
to pull wrenches.
It’s a tradesman’s euphemism
for “make them both a bit wrong
for the sake of seeming right.”
On my way to sling pipe
one guilty Sunday morning
I spot a dead hawk
in the shoulder of the highway.
It’s close enough to the guard rail
to say that some maddened motorist
had aimed for it.
There are sicker souls
than those who would work
on the Sabbath
or put metal in their genitals.
With the quarry next to the predator
three feet beyond
the white line that means wrong
I nod and take note at 75
that there’s room on the cross
Older Male Friends
Older male friends,
Men my dad’s age
Bachelors for whom
Success has been as elusive
As love and companionship,
Whose patience for change
Has been worn away
By successive waves of tech,
Where the chrome diner
Is a home away from home,
A stool to dangle their legs,
A single coffee mug in hand,
A single spoon for the single
Sugar packet adding taste—
In some past world,
Passing on to me the values
Of our people, the land, my life;
Here, now, they hand over
In a ritual gesture
All their confusion and fear
By heart medication
And my willingness to listen
—G. D. Burns
It is early evening, and the sky is resting behind
Its grey curtain.
The stars work hard—
Sharpening their points
As the fat moon tallies their fumbles.
Having watched the sun depart in a spill of paint,
Who among them can poke with enough intent
And hang, a sparkling pinprick, anxious,
Possessed by tremors
And the gravity of it all. The moon, you know,
Has eyes on its dark side too.
I was never spanked
“Popped” is the term my mother used
“get over here or else you’re going to get popped”
I would say, “mom, no!”
A good argument I thought
Guaranteed to seal the deal
My father never spanked me
That was too feminine
He would use euphemisms
Or the opposite of euphemisms
Euphemisms lessen the blow
Like calling it “popped”
He would say, “knock your block off”
Or “beat some sense into you”
Or “give you a knuckle sandwich”
Real tough guy catchphrases
Strangely, I was always more scared of my mom
I like stripping things down to the most simple idea possible
When he had a heart attack my mom said he “passed away”
I like to say he died
The truth lessens the blow
—Veronica L. Martin
On Halloween, I was with a cowboy,
So young, innocent, and vibrant,
Running the streets with his brother.
You know what they say, boys will be boys.
The world was his wild frontier,
But by Christmas he was gone, shot down,
Like a fleeting memory lost
In the frivolous play of youth.
Now he rides among the constellations,
Shines down on the world.
Every night I wish upon those lights,
The nightmare will end,
He’ll gallop home on a shooting star.