Poetry | May 2022 | Poetry | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

the strongest argument against war

is the nature of war


here is a boy who has lost his shoes

below the knees

and a mother with no sons


—p



Behind the Mask

"Behind the Mask" is a collaborative poem written by the students of Saugerties Jr/Sr High School and Ellenville Jr/Sr High School. It was assembled by librarians Sari Grandstaff and Asha Golliher into a visual poem.


Thirty and Fifty-Four


Stepping out of Good Will into a flash freeze of

January New York air

I stand in the sunshine,

take a minute to decide

if today is the day

I stop going to liquor stores.

It’s a new year, to be fair.

Instead, I think of the plastic bag in my fist,

full of secondhand jazz-

old vinyl, cardboard jackets

smelling like attics, cobwebs, mothballs,

wreaking of vintage swagger and class.


What better match for Good Will than cheap wine?


Three or four doors down I dust into

a tiny shop full of dustier bottles and

over-advertised lotto,

room small enough to highlight the

imaginary neon sign above my head-

arrow pointing toward my heated face, flashing:

lost.


I finger eight or ten bottles, maybe twelve.

The process itself is half the fun:


1) Red. Usually Malbec—

Argentina seems a good match for Good Will caliber.

2) Label. I’m buying, so sell me on

a hipster photo of a plunger, or runner,

or crisp white background with classy

black lettering for the days I feel put together.

3) Price. On the white-label-black-letter days

I might splurge

(for what most people would consider bottom bottles).


I settle a debate with myself.


At the counter, I step toward the man behind it.

Light skin for a black guy. Freckles. Curly hair.

Generations older than I.

In my white skin I wonder what life was like for him.

Did he listen to vinyl?

Did he notice my bag of vintage?

Does he think it makes me cool?

Next to the register there’s a sign for

a red bottle at $5.99.

I ask the guy if it’s any good.

He tells me “They’re all good.”

Gives me a genuine smile.

Says he refills the rack two, three times a day.

I swap out my bottle for the popularity.

Does he think it makes me cool?

He rings me up, I pay, and

then he asks if I’m twenty-one.

I tell him I’m almost thirty,

say I can’t believe it’s happening already.

I don’t show him my ID but

he believes me, convinced by

the neon arrow above my head, I think.

He tells me his best birthday was fifty-four.

I ask why, and he replies

because he was still alive.


Imagine that.


Tells me he has friends who

have been dead twenty, thirty years.

Silence.

And I see the whites of his eyes glazing

over as the tears swell in:

ocular capillaries as red as the wine in my fist,

and he says

“Except for David Wolf who died when I was eight.”


I listen as he tells me about the “heart thing”

that took his little friend and broke some heart thing

inside this fifty-four-year-old man.

His sobs send shock waves down

my arms which reach around a stranger

who holds me back for dear life.


Holds me back for being alive.


Letting go his lungs finally fill with

all the things he says he hasn’t said in forty-six years.

He doesn’t show me ID but I believe him.

Maybe it’s the neon arrow above his head.


And just like that, he steps back—

wiping torrents of tears

from the roof of his mood

and says “Enjoy the bottle. They’re all good.”


—Riston Benson



Winter's War


This is the one, the hindmost goodbye,

the end-of-world, unholiest one.


These are the funeral-plumes rising—

Beelzebub red, hot, fermented black.


These are the old ladies, the children.

They stumble and stagger over


what used to be windows and walls,

babushkas slipping from their heads,


mittens escaping frozen fingers.

They are wild, they lift their arms,


they fall and cut their legs

on porcelain plates and silver forks


that ride the sea of human debris.

Hungry, they weep, they thirst,


they howl for bread; their bellies ache.

There is no warm place, never, no more.


—Bertha Rogers

First published in Invasion of Ukraine 2022: Poems, edited by Richard Levine and Michael Young on Djelloul Marbrook's "Prism" substack. 



Requiem for Haiku


Quiet as new snow

falling upon fallen leaves.

Dark moonlight sighing.


Beginning to sing,

birds let me know it's morning.

I wake praising them.


The rain doesn't cry

as much as it used to.

Its friends wonder why.


Words gather like words

when no one knows what to say.

Silence knows better.


—Robert Harlow



Failure and What of It


I’m 60 and I have failed at the American Dream.

I am slowly pouring it out now, like a bag of sand,

shaking out the crumbs. A burden is lifted.

Instead of relief, the sack is just empty.

I’ve been caring and caring and now nothing.

Well, there is the sky, and the bare trees, and the creek

still flowing behind the house.


—Nina JeckerByrne



Some Mornings Even Spring Couldn't Save


Not April, not coffee, not purple

tulips opening on the table, not

you, or her, or even the early hour

sounds of my own mother's kitchen.


—Ryan Brennan



Blank Page


meeting you

I want to say


I’m a clown’s assistant

and a funerary violinist


but I don’t speak


I hear your heartbeat


time pacing one second

per second


as we lie here

together


now

now


now

false words later


—Wayne L. Miller



The Homecoming (Cain in the Age of Forgiveness)


Sun loiters in the oak tree

Where the katydids debate;

At last, I think I’ll stay

To hear their verdict.

This guilt of mine,

Coal-dark and heavy,

Drove me desolate

From corner to corner

Of the wide and lonesome world,

But every dirt-packed road, it seems,

Was headed straight for home.

Those burnished fields,

These soiled hands,

This wretched ache for green;

How could I forget?

The forgiveness of a morning,

The absolution of the earth.

Tomorrow, when I start to plow,

I’ll hope, in every harvest,

To find what I betrayed:

Your smile when I gave you

The best half of my mandarin

In the shade of the oak tree.


—Emily Murnane



Intuition


My dreams

tell me

Truths

your mouth

won’t.


—Nicole Hughes



A New Tattoo


Thumbing through pages

Wildflower line drawings

From my grandmother’s book.

You want a new tattoo

Something feminine and graceful.

The ones you have seem to say

“I am arduous,”

“You cannot love me.”

Trillium, monarda, poppy.

Black and white or color?

You deliberate aloud.

Elbows bump and graze

We are huddled together on the sofa

Our vessel for the hypothetical.

Dirt clings to the creases in your toes

There’s a new line on your forehead

Since our last meeting.

A wildflower tattoo will not soften you.

Nothing will.


—Megan Phillips



Battleships


After all of this time

under the sparkling white streetlight

you held my face

(held my breath)

all at once.


There you were.


—Eli Thompson-Jones



Springtime


Where do the petals of a flower go

when they—

fall?

To Hell, she said.

Very well, very well, it is—

natural.


—Liam Connor



Caught in the Works


Cuffed to my wrist,

my watch,

a triumph

of technology,

how ever often

I look at it

has only one thing

to say to me,

Keep running…


—Clifford Henderson

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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