Poem of the Week, by Patricia Fargnoli

– Patricia Fargnoli

Over my head the roofmen are banging shingles into place
and over them the sky shines with a light that is
almost past autumn, and bright as copper foil.

In the end I will have something to show for their hard labor–
unflappable shingles, dry ceilings, one more measure of things
held safely in a world where safety is impossible.

In another state, a friend tries to keep on living
though his arteries are clogged,
though the operation left a ten-inch scar

and, near his intestines, an aneurysm blossoms
like a deformed flower. His knees and feet
burn with constant pain.

We go on. I don’t know how sometimes.
For a living, I listen eight hours a day to the voices
of the anxious and the sad. I watch their beautiful faces

for some sign that life is more than disaster–
it is always there, the spirit behind the suffering,
the small light that gathers the soul and holds it

beyond the sacrifices of the body. Necessary light.
I bend toward it and blow gently.
And those hammerers above me, bend into the dailiness

of their labor, beneath concentric circles: a roof of sky,
beneath the roof of the universe,
beneath what vaults over it.

And don’t those journeymen
hold a piece of the answer– the way they go on
laying one gray speckled square after another,

nailing each down, firmly, securely.

For more information on Patricia Fargnoli, please click here: http://www.joefargnoli.com/

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

Poem of the Week, by Kevin Hart

– Kevin Hart

Some days
The snow has taken me in
To know the time of snow, to live
Inside a world so quiet

Its music
Is all a shimmering. Some evenings
When quite alone
I turn off every light

And watch the snow
Enjoy the dark, moving lushly
Through spiky air,
Finding more time

In time
Than when I stretch myself
And am
My father’s father. Oh yes,

There is
A sparkling choir, there surely is,
And dark ice air
Through which we fall.

For more information about Kevin Hart, please click here: http://www.poetryinternational.org/piw_cms/cms/cms_module/index.php?obj_id=678

Swimming in the dark

And so begins the great lengthening of the light: two minutes today, more tomorrow, and on and on until June 21.

You’re sitting right now in darkness lit by a glowing tree. You’re remembering light, and people, past and present, dear to you.

Fireflies, little magicians of bioluminescence. You spent so many days, this long year, writing and rewriting a tiny novel about, in equal measure, a firefly, a cricket and a vole. But when you think about the tiny novel, it’s the firefly you think of first, lighting the night.

You grew up in a house in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains so removed from anything resembling a town that at night, the only light visible was a sky full of stars. It took you an absurdly long time, after you were grown up and had lived in cities for many years, to realize that the Adirondacks sky is no more full of stars than anywhere else. When the darkness around it is left undisturbed, a sky full of stars is the way sky is.

When you were nine years old you slept over at a friend’s house. She lived in the village, “the village” being the town of 300 that lay five miles south of your house. You remember hardly sleeping because of the streetlight on the corner that glowed all night long. It was so bright.

It’s surprising how much brightness a person can get used to.

In a clearing on a hill in Vermont is a tiny, one-room  cabin. You and your friends built it from a kit you bought off eBay.

The night sky there is full of stars, and the pine woods that surround the cabin are full of fireflies. Someone close to you lived there for half a year, and every night he and his dog went to sit on the bench he built there, down the slope from the cabin, to watch the fireflies come out.

You remember a night at the State Fair four years ago, when your youthful companion and her friend Charlie stood gazing longingly at a kiosk that sold helium balloons on sticks, rubber bouncy balls, and other plastic kitsch. Feeling generous, you bought them each a light-up sword.

Later, as you walked out of the Midway and across a dark meadow to get to your car, your youthful companion and her friend took off across the slope. They wove their way among the trees, their laughter floating through the air, light-up swords flashing in the dark.

You remember buying a package of glow-in-the-dark stars and moons and planets from Spencer Gifts when you were a teenager and your baby brother was turning seven. You stood on a chair in his room reaching up –you can still feel the ache in your arms– pressing each one onto the ceiling of his room.

Those stars and moons and planets are still there in that old room, glowing in the dark when your brother’s young son, visiting his grandparents, goes to sleep.

Here’s a memory of darkness from when you lived on the ocean. There was a white van, and you and someone you loved sitting in it with the engine turned off and the windows open. Summer. A sand road that led to the dunes, and the ocean beyond.

Dark sky above, sand glimmering faintly below, and the murmur of the waves. No one else around. You both took your clothes off and ran in, invisible in the dark water.

But no, not invisible after all. You began to glow, the two of you, arms and legs shimmering beneath the surface of the water. It was an astonishing sight, something you’d never seen before.

There was a reason for it, something to do with oceanic phosphorescence. He explained it to you. But you don’t remember the explanation. All you remember is the sight of him, arm over arm, propelling himself out beyond the break, a swimmer trailing fire.

Here’s a memory of light that didn’t happen to you, but you see it so vividly that it’s as if it did. An airline lost-luggage deliveryman making his way around the curves and hills of the Adirondacks, trying to find that house so far away from anything familiar.

“Dear God,” he said when he finally gave up and called, lost, from his truck. “Where do you people live?”

Your mother laughed.

“Stay on the phone and I’ll guide you in,” she said, and she stood on the porch waving a flashlight back and forth, slowly, a miniature version of the way giant spotlights crisscross the city when a new club opens.

When you were five years old, she woke you in the middle of the night. She took your hand and guided you downstairs and out onto the porch.

“Look up,” she said, and you looked up.

The dark night sky shimmered and pulsed with light. Red and yellow and green and blue, soundless and unearthly.

“That’s the northern lights,” she said. “The aurora borealis.”

You hung onto her hand, your mother whom you loved, and watched the heavens silently singing above.

Years later but long ago now there was another night when you were lost in the darkness in Vermont, driving into the country, searching for the place where someone else you love lived. It was late. Back and forth you drove, past dark houses, dark farms, dark roads, trying to remember the directions he had given you.

Finally you realized you were already there, had been there several times, in fact, in your wanderings. You turned off the headlights, drove down the driveway in darkness, turned off the engine and climbed the steps, everything dark but the faint red glow of the stereo.

Once under the quilts you listened to the sounds around you. Creak of bedframe as you turned over. Tiny rustling animals. Wind in the top of the pines. Crickets. The breathing of someone asleep next to you. If, when you picture it, darkness has a sound, then these are the sounds it has.

If darkness has a smell, it’s the smell of furrowed fields and pine woods, salt water and sand.

If darkness is defined only by light, then light is stars and fireflies, skin glowing in the ocean, the faint red flicker of a stereo after a long journey, the presence of those you loved and love.

Poem of the Week, by Carole Satyamurti

Life on Mir
– Carole Satyamurti
  (Note: Mir was the former Russian space station)

They took small fish, to observe

the effects of weightlessness in water.

Goldfish, ordinary on earth, were now

miraculous, their glitter precious currency,

their tiny mouths’ O and O a greeting.

So that when they died some men wept,

feeling, as if for the first time,

how grave a life is. Any life at all.

For more information on Carole Satyamurti, please click here: http://www.poetrypf.co.uk/carolesatyamurtibiog.html


Poem of the Week, by Mark Irwin

– Mark Irwin (for Gerald Stern)

Everything stands wondrously multicolored

and at attention in the always Christmas air.

What scent lingers unrecognizably

between that of popcorn, grilled cheese sandwiches,

malted milkballs, and parakeets? Maybe you came here

in winter to buy your daughter a hamster

and were detained by the bin

of Multicolored Thongs, four pair

for a dollar. Maybe you came here to buy

some envelopes, the light blue par avion ones

with airplanes, but caught yourself, lost,

daydreaming, saying it’s too late over the glassy

diorama of cakes and pies. Maybe you came here

to buy a lampshade, the fake crimped

kind, and suddenly you remember

your grandmother, dead

twenty years, floating through the old

house like a curtain. Maybe you’re retired,

on Social Security, and came here for the Roast

Turkey Dinner, or the Liver and Onions,

or just to stare into a black circle

of coffee and to get warm. Or maybe

the big church down the street is closed

now during the day, and you’re homeless and poor,

or you’re rich, or it doesn’t matter what you are

with a little loose change jangling in your pocket,

begging to be spent, because you wandered in

and somewhere between the bin of animal crackers

and the little zoo in the back of the store

you lost something, and because you came here

not to forget, but to remember to live.

For more information on Mark Irwin, please click here: http://www.markirwinauthor.com/

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

Manuscript Critique Service:

"And the water made a sound like memory when we sailed. . ."

This was a long time ago. You were, what, twenty years old? Yes, twenty, which is about how old you are in that crappy photo to the right.

You were living in Taiwan, eating potstickers and shrimp fried rice and mapo dofu, taking classes in a random sort of way, washing your clothes in a big sink –did you know it’s very hard to get laundry soap out of jeans by hand? It is– wandering the streets of Taipei, sometimes getting on a random bus and riding it as far as it went in order to see the sights, knowing that eventually the bus would circle back and you could get off where you got on.

(But did you know that not all buses eventually circle back? Some buses rumble along for hours until they’re far, far away, and then the bus driver parks and turns off the bus and motions you to get out, that this is the end of the line.)

You were living in Taipei in an apartment where your roommates taught you that you didn’t need to bathe and wash your waist-length hair every day, “taught” being, in this case, a synonym for “made you pay the water bill yourself because what kind of person other than a crazy American girl washes their hair every day?”

Potstickers, a penny apiece. Watermelon shakes, sesame ice cream, also cheap. Rent, cheap. The bus, cheap. Clothes, cheap. Everything was cheap except apples, which were absurdly expensive and came individually packaged in little foam and gilt-wrapped boxes.

For money, you taught English and sold your blood. You did everything on the cheap, which is how you and your two friends came to take the pig-and-vegetable boat to Orchid Island, off the southern tip of Taiwan. You had heard that there was nothing there but ocean and sand and the Tao people who had always lived there.

“You’re going to Orchid Island?” one of your Chinese roommates said. “Hey, bring me back a monkey, will you?”

Were there monkeys on Orchid Island? You had no idea. It seemed possible. Anything seemed possible, back then in Taiwan.

“Sure,” you said. “I’ll bring you back a monkey.”

You and your two friends could have taken another, faster boat, but it was more expensive. You could have taken a plane, which was also more expensive. The pig-and-vegetable boat was cheap, which is how you came to stand in a line on an industrial dock, waiting to board.

The only other passengers, and there were many of them, were green-uniformed Taiwanese soldiers. As you boarded the boat, you were handed a plastic bag.

“What’s this for?” you asked one of the soldiers standing next to you.

“Don’t know,” he said, and shrugged.

You both found out once you left shore. The pig-and-vegetable boat pitched and tossed in the big waves, under the blue sky, and the sun beat down as you and the soldiers began barfing into the plastic bags, which quickly filled and left you with nowhere to turn but the ocean itself, where the wind blew both spray and barf back at you.

Before long you were lying on the filthy floor, tossed beneath the metal deck benches with each swell, covered with vomit, not caring if in your sickened state you rolled up against a soldier, because you were all in the same boat, literally, and you knew you would die if this kept on much longer.

Which could probably have happened, but didn’t. By the time you docked at Orchid Island, four hours or four months later, you and your two friends were so weak and worn out that when a man on a motorbike sped up to one and motioned her to get on, she got on.

Off she zoomed, clinging to the man, and up a hill they disappeared. Who was he? Where was he taking her? Another man on another motorbike appeared and your second friend got on and zipped away down the road.

You waited your turn and it came. Here is a man, here is a motorbike. Sure, why not? Off you went, assuming that he would take you someplace and that when that someplace appeared, you would see your friends again.

And so it happened. The three of you reunited at an abandoned half-built hotel. Who were the men on the motorbikes? You never found out. They didn’t want anything, not even money. They disappeared, their motorbikes whining like mosquitoes as they rounded a distant hill.

Was there any place to stay on Orchid Island? No. How you ended up staying in the kindergarten room of a two-room school, you have no idea. Tiny chairs, tiny tables, a floor to sleep on, and on it you slept.

Besides dried fish and a strange fruit whose name you don’t know, you don’t remember what you ate. You don’t remember talking to anyone but your two friends. There were the Tao people, the Orchid Islanders, but they didn’t speak Mandarin.They wore few clothes and lived, it seemed, on dried fish and that nameless fruit.

Next morning you woke before dawn, like always. Your two friends were sound asleep on the floor of the kindergarten. You walked down the road to the beach –Orchid Island was all beach– and sat down on the sand to watch the sun come up.

Clouds on the far horizon lit themselves from beneath with pink and orange and the sky began to turn gold. You were wearing your pink skirt, that same pink skirt you wore almost every day when you lived in Taiwan, and the sand under your bare feet was cool and soft and white. You pulled your knees up and wrapped your arms around them and watched the world take form.

The South China Sea was calm that morning, with a gentle surf. Far across the sand you saw something coming toward you. It looked to be an enormous animal of some kind. You don’t remember being afraid. There was something un-scary about it.

The sky grew lighter and the animal turned into a prone man, elbowing his way across the sand. His thighs tapered to stubs just below the narrow band of cloth tied around his butt. He finned his way up to you, sitting there on the sand, and laughed and gestured with one arm toward the water.

What was he asking you? To go swimming? You shook your head and smiled back at him. He kept talking, laughing. You shook your head and lifted your shoulders and tilted your head. You tried a few words in Mandarin, but he didn’t understand it, and you didn’t understand his language.

Then he was off, finning his laborious way across that vast expanse of sand to the water. He looked back as if to make sure you were still there. You were. You waved.

He reached the water and turned into a fish. He was no longer a man, he was a creature of the ocean, a beautiful man-fish in that beautiful water. Flipping and diving and surfacing and diving again. You have never seen anyone so effortless in the water before or since.

The sun was up by the time he returned, clutching something between his teeth, those powerful shoulders of his propelling him back across the sand. You met him halfway and he plucked the something from his mouth: a piece of coral, orange-pink like the sunrise you had just watched. An intricate whorled pattern.

He laughed again and dropped it into your hand, closed your fingers around it. A gift. That was all the sea-man wanted, to give you a gift. He waited until you smiled, until he was sure you liked the coral, and then he was off, looking back at you and smiling, making his way back across the sand to the sea that made him whole.

Your friends were still sleeping on the cement floor of the kindergarten when you returned. You stayed on the island for two more days, eating dried fish, digging your toes into the white sand, wandering up and down the road and the hills. You didn’t see the ocean man again.

When you left you didn’t take the pig-and-vegetable boat. You flew back to Taiwan in a tiny plane that held the pilot and the three of you, sitting on a vinyl bench seat that had been ripped out of a school bus and shoved haphazardly into the space behind the pilot. There was nothing between you and the sky but the thin skin of the tiny, droning plane.

When you got back to the apartment you showed the coral to your Chinese roommate and tried to explain the ocean man to her, what it had been like sitting on the beach while the sun came up, watching him fin his way across the sand to you. She was mildly interested.

“Nice,” she said, examining the coral. “But where’s my monkey?”

For years you carried that coral with you. It sat on every desk you had, in each apartment, from state to state.

You don’t know how or where you lost it, in which move to which apartment or house, but you did.

* * *

. . .And in one of the chapters I was blinded by love
And in another, anger made us sick like swallowed glass
& I lay in my bunk and slept for so long,
I forgot about the ocean,
Which all the time was going by, right there, outside my cabin window.

And the sides of the ship were green as money,
and the water made a sound like memory when we sailed.

Then it was summer. Under the constellation of the swan,
under the constellation of the horse.

At night we consoled ourselves
By discussing the meaning of homesickness.
But there was no home to go home to.
There was no getting around the ocean.
We had to go on finding out the story
by pushing into it —

(from Voyage, a poem by Tony Hoagland)

Poem of the Week, by Stanley Plumly

The Woman Who Shoveled the Sidewalk
– Stanley Plumly

She clearly needed more than money,
which, anyway, wasn’t much.
Her dog, one of those outlawed fighting breeds,
black-and-white and eyes too far apart,
kept snapping at the leash, the cash
I placed as simply as I could into her open hand.
Her small stalled car was what she lived in,
the death seat and backseat all-purposed into piles.
She was desperate so she blessed me.
I could almost feel my mother standing there,
the way she’d greet the lost after the war.
A woman vulnerable is powerful.
Poverty in all the texts grants grace
to the raveled and unwashed,
just as the soul we assign to what is singing
in the trees, even in winter, lives
in the face and voice of the least.
You could see the random child in her,
who had got, today, this far.
You could hear, under her words, silence.
There wasn’t that much snow, enough
to take its picture if you left it untouched.
Her companionable, hostile dog was what she had,
who stayed in the car while she started in earnest,
as if the work were wages. Young, off
or still on drugs—I couldn’t tell—
she was alone in every hard detail.
Each day is lifted, then put back down.
Tomorrow’s snow turns back into the rain.
I had to be somewhere but knew when
I got home she’d be gone. And the walk,
from start to finish, would be clean.

For more information on Stanley Plumly, please click here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/stanley-plumly

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