Poem of the Week, by Aria Dominguez

The Things I Cannot See
– Aria Dominguez

The corner store went up in flames, and he talked about it for weeks.
An armada of fire engines, lights flashing: a two year-old’s dream.
The smoke, the steam, the frozen spray coating
the trees, bushes, and house next door.

Then the shell was demolished, yet more excitement.
Crane, wrecking ball, backhoe, dump trucks,
construction workers directing traffic
in yellow safety vests.

All year, every time we drove by the vacant lot.
he pointed out, There’s where the building burned down!
He wouldn’t let me forget the fire I fear, how easy it could be
to find myself out in the cold watching our life blaze into ashes.

At the end of summer, a construction fence went up
as hard hatted surveyors measured and planned.
One day we passed the site to find it crawling with machines,
excavation of the foundation begun.

Momma! he screamed with what seemed overmuch fervor,
even for diggers in action. He shrieked, Where are the plants?
The plants are gone! Indeed, the neck-high weeds blanketing the property
had been ground up under the metal tracks of the equipment.

I told him the plants were to be replaced with a new building,
thinking he would be excited to watch it go up. But he began to sob,
No, make them put the plants back. I loved those plants.
They were green and had pretty flowers. Put them back!

I tried to explain that they were just weeds. I tired to explain
that many in the neighborhood have no cars
and nowhere else to walk for food. People often say
he is a kid you can explain things to, but there was no explaining this.

All I could do was pull over and hold him as he wept for the death
of flowers sown by the wind, the loss
of green growing for the sake of being green, the emptiness
of the earth left to do what it will.


Aria Dominguez is a Minneapolis poet and photographer. For more information on some of her work, please click here for information on the Powderhorn 365 Project: http://www.powderhorn365.com/index.php?/categories/54-Aria-Dominguez

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/pages/Alison-McGhee/119862491361265?ref=ts

Manuscript Critique Service:
https://alisonmcghee.com/manuscript.html

Poem of the Week, by W.S. Merwin

Little Horse
– W.S. Merwin

You come from some other forest
do you
little horse
think how long I have known these
deep dead leaves
without meeting you

I belong to no one
I would have wished for you if I had known how
what a long time the place was empty
even in my sleep
and loving it as I did
I could not have told what was missing

what can I show you
I will not ask you if you will stay
or if you will come again
I will not try to hold you
I only hope you will come with me to where I stand
often sleeping and waking
by the patient water
that has no father nor mother


For more information on W.S. Merwin, please click here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/w-s-merwin

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/pages/Alison-McGhee/119862491361265?ref=ts

"Perhaps this soil is singing"

“Bees’ eyes can pick up much of what ours can, but in addition they can see a wavelength of light, a color, impossible for us to perceive.” (Philip Hilts)

You often wondered, when your first baby, the boy with the fathomless blue eyes, was born, what was going through his mind. Thoughts that he had no language to express? Feelings beyond hunger, cold, pain, tiredness –beyond sensation?

You had no idea. You held him constantly in a dangling thing strapped to your chest, and you sang to him constantly as well. The same songs, over and over. You wondered if he ever heard the songs inside his baby head on the rare occasions when he wasn’t with you. How could you know?

Once, back in those days, you poked your head into his room, silently so as not to wake him if he was still sleeping. He wasn’t sleeping. Those blue eyes were wide open and staring up at something. Unblinking. You followed his gaze: the slatted blinds, half-closed at his window, were reflected and multiplied on the ceiling.

Dark bars, white slashes, dark bars, white slashes.

He watched and watched and watched.

Some time later, you read somewhere that infants are drawn to black and white contrast. You thought back to that day of the blue-eyed baby staring at the black and white bars. It made sense.

But did it, really? No. The fact that babies are drawn to black and white contrast means only that. You still don’t know why he was drawn to the black and white. You never will.

He was seeing something that you didn’t. He was seeing the world in a way that you had long outgrown, moved beyond.

When you began to read picture books to the blue-eyed boy, him on your lap, your arms around him, you realized that he saw the books in a way that was lost to you. Read him Goodnight Moon and his small finger would point to the mouse on each page. No matter where the mouse was hiding, he would find it, whereas your eyes went automatically to the printed words.

Two ways of seeing the same book. Two worlds in the same world.

You had a wave of sadness when you realized this, because you saw that you could never go back to the way the blue-eyed boy saw the world, because you knew how to read, and reading changes everything. Words first, pictures second.

The older you get the more aware you are of ways of seeing. Ways of perceiving. Ways of moving through the world.

Five years ago you moved into an old house with beautiful woodwork. Woodwork everywhere, from the box-beamed ceiling in the dining room to the handcrafted kitchen cabinets and radiator covers. Hardwood floors in every room. Gleaming, grained, hand-fitted wood, planed and shaped by the cabinetmaker who lived in the house before you.

Dear ___, what kind of wood are the kitchen cabinets made out of? They’re so pretty. Thanks, Alison

That was the extent of the note you sent him. A simple question about the kitchen cabinets.

What came back was a long, long, long email detailing all the wood used in each room of the house. Cherry and oak and walnut and maple and birch, and all the variations and qualities of each.

Probably way more information than you wanted, I guess.

That was how he ended his email. But he was wrong. You saved that email and sometimes still you read through it to remind yourself not so much of the kind of wood in your house but of the love and devotion that someone else can bring to an ordinary something –wood, in this case– that you think you appreciate, but don’t. Not really.

The friend who cuts your hair was born to cut hair and knew it from the beginning.

“I started cutting hair when I was in elementary school,” she said. “I just knew how to do it. I would cut all my friends’ hair.”

“And you were good at it from the start, weren’t you?” you said.

“Yes,” she said, a simple statement of fact. “I was.”

You were talking a few days ago with a friend who was attempting to explain various numbers on a budget chart to you. Some you got, some you had a hard time wrapping your head around, such as the numbers that count in one year but are actually carried forward to the next.

“It’s another language,” he said, “and there are people who know it as well as English. ‘These are the four numbers that matter,’ that kind of person will say, ‘and here’s why they matter.'”

He shook his head. “A page full of numbers, and they can read the entire story that those numbers signify in a couple of minutes.”

This reminded you of your typing days, back in college and a few years beyond, when you typed papers for money. How you dreaded the math theses. All those numbers, all those lines, all those symbols, all that lack of words. Words are what you love, the very word-ness of them. Numbers, to you, are without story, without color and sound and sensation. Not so to the mathematicians, though.

You used to have –you still have, you just haven’t seen him in many many years– a friend who was born for math. You met him the first week of college, in the mountains, and he was immediately one of your best friends but he couldn’t stay there; he needed to be in a place where numbers were everything. He transferred to MIT and you used to visit him there, in that place where the buildings had not names but numbers.

You would wander from building to building and back to his apartment, where his desk was pristine –completely bare but for a pen holder and a perfectly aligned stack of papers covered with those numbers.

A few years later you used to visit him in Princeton, where he had gone to get his doctorate in numbers, the youngest of anyone you’ve ever known to have those three letters after his name.

How you loved talking with him about math, because he loved it so much. At one point he was studying something called manifolds. He tried to explain the concept to you.

“Manifolds,” you said, trying to understand. “Manifolds. . . what color are they?”

He stared at you. You stared at him. You both started laughing. Different worlds within the same world.

Sometimes, after you graduated from college and moved to Boston, you would temp if you were in need of extra cash. Once in a while the agency sent you to MIT, the very campus where your friend had been a student just a few years earlier. Those same numbered buildings, that manicured grass, those right-angle cement walkways.

You remember a certain professor striding down the hall to the desk where you sat lamely attempting to replicate a scrawled page of numbers onto a computer screen.

“It’s Alison, right?” said the professor.

“Right.”

“So, what are you? A ballet dancer, I’m guessing. Or an actress.”

“A writer,” you said.

He nodded briskly.

“Ah yes,” he said. “That would’ve been my next guess.”

Meaning that you didn’t see the world the way he did. Meaning that your lame attempt at replication was lame in the extreme. What could you say? It was true.

Now you have many artist friends, painters and photographers and sculptors and textile artists. They all see in the world things that you don’t, that you miss, that go right by you.

The only time you draw anything remotely look-at-able is when you let go of the idea you have in your mind of what you’re drawing. When you draw only what you see in front of you, the shadows and weird shapes and lines and curves that don’t have any relation to the thing that you’re looking at, but which, when you’re finished, look so much more like it than if you’d tried to steer yourself rationally.

Yours is not the world of a visual artist, but when you pick up a pencil and work in this way you can almost feel, for a little while, what it must be like to see the world this way.

Nothing is ordinary. To everything in the world there is someone, somewhere, fascinated by it, born to it, someone who sees in it things that you never will.

* * *

“Perhaps this soil is singing. Perhaps June
ends with scents of lavender and heal-all
even though we cannot smell them, and soon
wind feels exactly like the sea. We call
this sundown. We welcome the full moon
fading to a white we have learned to doubt . . .

Poem of the Week, by Ed Bok Lee

String Theory
– Ed Bok Lee

As a boy, I chose a beach ball
with a metal chopstick
over food & grown-ups
What wouldn’t float away
despite any mouth
Some things choose us
Waking in a best friend’s coffin
Falling asleep in a too-thin language
The slow, inward draw of a lover’s
draining dream
Feathery rain that will never land
Sweet dry leaf sage translucent silver-
fish flee still dispatching oceans
Each time I burn the world pure
When the Lord created the sun
shadows unfastened themselves
Let there be the mature mind
Some things won’t return
Let there be the unquenchable sea
Let there be an infant somewhere, always
in the city night, refusing to obey
He will speak through scissors
He will collect infinitely useless string
He will fashion a kind of belief
in subtraction’s eloquence


For more information on Ed Bok Lee, please click here: www.edboklee.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/pages/Alison-McGhee/119862491361265?ref=ts

Poem of the Week, by Naomi Shihab Nye

Two Countries
– Naomi Shihab Nye

Skin remembers how long the years grow
when skin is not touched, a gray tunnel
of singleness, feather lost from the tail
of a bird, swirling onto a step,
swept away by someone who never saw
it was a feather. Skin ate, walked,
slept by itself, knew how to raise a
see-you-later hand. But skin felt
it was never seen, never known as
a land on the map, nose like a city,
hip like a city, gleaming dome of the mosque
and the hundred corridors of cinnamon and rope.

Skin had hope, that’s what skin does.
Heals over the scarred place, makes a road.
Love means you breathe in two countries.
And skin remembers–silk, spiny grass,
deep in the pocket that is skin’s secret own.
Even now, when skin is not alone,
it remembers being alone and thanks something larger
that there are travelers, that people go places
larger than themselves.


For more information on Naomi Nye, please click here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/naomi-shihab-nye

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/pages/Alison-McGhee/119862491361265?ref=ts

Portrait of a Friend, Volume IV

Unlike most friends, this friend has been part of your life for as long as you can remember. He figures in your earliest memories, and there hasn’t ever been a stretch of longer than half a year when you haven’t been in his presence.

That hat and shirt in the photo to the right stand as evidence of a rare instance of fashion coordination. The hat: plaid. The shirt: plaid. Two plaids = a well-matched outfit.

He’s a tall man, a big man. He has a big presence and a giant voice. His laugh, when he gets going, will fill a room and make all those around him shake their heads in admiration. This is a man who likes to tell a story.

He’s good at telling them, too. At the diner, where he goes every morning to meet his buddies for coffee, and where you go when you’re visiting, they sometimes egg him on.

“Did you tell Alison about the woman who propositioned you at McDonald’s?” one will say.

“Jesus H Christ!” he’ll say. “No I didn’t!”

“Are you kidding me?” you’ll say. “A woman propositioned you at McDonald’s?”

He will shake his head, that mighty laugh beginning to rumble out of him.

“Tell her,” his friends will say. “Alison needs to know.”

They will wink at you, and grin, while he looks down at the formica diner table, still shaking his head, still laughing. And then he’ll tell it, in that giant voice, so that the whole diner ends up listening. And laughing. And shaking their heads.

He is a man who has never been accused of political correctness. Nor has he, unlike most people in the world, ever tried to be anything other than exactly who he is.

Sometimes he would come to visit you during the four years you spent at that little college in the mountains, where most of the other visiting adults wore pearls and linen dresses and suitcoats and polished shoes.

Over the Adirondacks and into the Green Mountains he would come, cresting the hill in a big old station wagon. The door would open and he would haul himself out. Those were the years of the neon orange polyester shirt and the polyester pants with the grease stain. Those were the years of your friends, unused to big men with giant laughs, unused to hearing “Jesus H Christ!” so frequently and happily roared out in public, looking forward to his visits.

“Al-oh-sun.”

Despite a lifetime of knowing you, and despite the fact that your name is simple to pronounce, that is how he pronounces it.

“Alison,” you sometimes say, even now. “A-li-son. Emphasis on the first syllable. Try it again.”

He looks up and smiles, a gleeful little grin from a big man.

“Jesus H Christ!” he says. “I know how to pronounce your name, Al-oh-sun!”

This easy give and take, this banter, this happiness, wasn’t always there. When you were little, you were often afraid of him.

Was it that big voice, his height and his bigness? He was a man of enormous physical strength. He often spent entire days chopping down trees, chainsawing them into big chunks, then smaller chunks, then splitting them into smaller and smaller chunks that, finally, were small enough to fit inside a woodstove.

So tough and stoic is he in the face of pain that he once had to lie down on the floor of a doctor’s office and refuse to move in order to convince them that something –which turned out to be an appendix that had ruptured more than 24 hours previously– was seriously, terribly wrong.

You remember him once pouring Clorox over his bleeding arm: disinfectant.

Unlike now, he was often angry.

Like most children, you assumed that his anger was directed at you. That you were the cause of it. That you must have done something to bring it on.

Like most of the grownups close to you, he was a familiar mystery. In retrospect, you didn’t know him well. How could you? Each of you kept things hidden from the other.

You remember late nights when you were a girl, him working at the kitchen table, head bent over complicated graphs and charts, filling in tiny boxes with penciled numbers. He worked for a dairy farmers’ cooperative; he was keeping track of milk counts at various farms. Or he was charting milk tank truck routes; milk has to be taken to a processing plant within a certain number of hours, and winter in upstate New York is fearsome and unpredictable.

You remember him figuring out other numbers, bent over a checkbook, writing check after check, paying bills.

“Where does it all go, though?” you remember saying once, when you were in your teens.

You were talking about the money that he made. It was an honest question, an idle question.

“Where does it go!” he roared. That anger again, or what you interpreted as anger, anger at you. “Where does it go!”

Later that night he called you out to that kitchen table. On it was a piece of ruled notebook paper. BUDGET at the top of the page. Underneath, line after line with things like Mortgage and Taxes and Food and Gas and Car Payment, each with a dollar amount jotted next to it. Exact dollar amounts, written from memory, subtracted and subtracted and subtracted from that single figure titled “Income.”

“Now do you see?” he said. “Now do you see where it goes?”

Yes. Now you saw.

You didn’t, not really. But later, many years later, when you yourself were sitting up late at night, your children asleep upstairs, dividing a small number over and over again, trying to make it come out differently, you remembered that night so long ago. That piece of lined paper titled Budget.

He was a young man, back then, which is something else you didn’t know. Grownups, those mysterious beings. To a child, a grownup is born a grownup. Could you have imagined him, back then, as a child himself? No.

When you were a little girl you had no idea how young he was. You do now, though. You look back and you wonder at his youth. What went through his mind? What were his dreams? What had he put aside, for four children and the responsibilities that go with them?

Once, when you were about twelve and he was, what, 36, someone asked the people in the kitchen in which you were both standing this question. “If you could start your life over, would you?”

Almost everyone in the room answered immediately: “No.”

But not him. “Yes,” he said. “I would.”

And not you. “Yes,” you said. “I would.”

Looking back, it seems impossible that you, at that age, could have answered that way. How in the world could you have lived long enough, lived through enough, to want the chance to do it over? But the memory is perfectly clear.

You remember looking at him –that big, tall man, often angry the way he was back then– and recognizing that something in him, something he had never talked about, was in you too. Even if neither of you knew what it was.

If he never talked about the big questions, he was full of small ones. When you would return from a day or overnight at a friend’s house, for example, he would quiz you.

“What did you have for lunch?” he would say, “and what did you have for supper? Where did you sleep? How warm do they keep their house?”

He would lean forward so as not to miss anything, and you would describe it all.

“Jesus H Christ!” he would interject, fascinated and needing more details, which you would supply.

He loves a good story, and so do you. He will happily exaggerate if it will make a good story better, and so will you. His love of a good laugh, his keen interest in the people around him, his frustrated anger at his young children when he was a young man, his deadpan humor, his fierce need to make his own schedule, to be free, to get in his car and drive?

All these are in you too. Early on, you felt yourself so different from him. Not anymore.

You remember him coming out of a gas station on a summer day, somewhere in the middle of the two-week road trips that were your family’s annual vacation, his hands full of candy bars, one for each child.

You remember a dusty wooden-floored building out in the country, where every once in a while a polka band would set up. You remember setting your then-small feet on his enormous ones and holding on while he danced you around the room.

You remember a day in a restaurant with him and his mother, whom you adored, and the rest of the family. You remember his mother losing her balance and falling flat on her back and him, then in his 60’s, silently and swiftly scooping her up in his arms and setting her back upright.

Now, these many years later, you sometimes get eight or nine emails a day from him. Almost all are forwarded posts that he’s gotten from others: astonishing or weird sights, political jokes, cute pictures of animals, unusual historical facts. Jokes, off-color in the extreme, that almost always make you laugh.

Usually, the mere sight of a forwarded email, with those telltale and dreaded endless lines of recipients and senders, means an automatic delete. Not so if he’s the sender. You read them all. You respond to the ones you like best.

He likes late night solitaire. Sometimes, when you’re going to bed, you picture him, far away in that house in the foothills, his still-big body perched on a small chair, gazing at the green screen, seven vertical rows of cards.

The sound of a baseball game turned low on a television in the background of a room, or a baseball game on the radio in a car, any car, brings you back to childhood. When you visit you sit and watch with him, arguing about the Yankees.

You’re lucky people. Lucky to have both lived long enough to live through the storms. Not a day goes by that you don’t get up in the morning and sit and bow your head and thank the world for that. For having come out on the other side. For the loss of fear and the gain of love.

In your 30’s you read a poem, this poem:

* * *

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,

who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

* * *

You memorized it.