Poem of the Week, by Jeffrey Harrison

Our Other Sister

     – Jeffrey Harrison

The cruelest thing I did to my younger sister
wasn’t shooting a homemade blowdart into her knee,
where it dangled for a breathless second

before dropping off, but telling her we had
another, older sister who’d gone away.
What my motives were I can’t recall: a whim,

or was it some need of mine to toy with loss,
to probe the ache of imaginary wounds?
But that first sentence was like a strand of DNA

that replicated itself in coiling lies
when my sister began asking her desperate questions.
I called our older sister Isabel

and gave her hazel eyes and long blonde hair.
I had her run away to California
where she took drugs and made hippie jewelry.

Before I knew it, she’d moved to Santa Fe
and opened a shop. She sent a postcard
every year or so, but she’d stopped calling.

I can still see my younger sister staring at me,
her eyes widening with desolation
then filling with tears. I can still remember

how thrilled and horrified I was
that something I’d just made up
had that kind of power, and I can still feel

the blowdart of remorse stabbing me in the heart
as I rushed to tell her none of it was true.
But it was too late. Our other sister

had already taken shape, and we could not
call her back from her life far away
or tell her how badly we missed her.

For more information on Jeffrey Harrison, please click here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/jeffrey-harrison

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Poem of the Week, by Howard Cushman

Smaller Dog
– Stephen Cushman

We can’t all be
brightest in the sky

or the biggest guy
in outer space.

But I don’t envy
anybody’s place

or need to feel
I have no worth

because I’m far
from Orion’s heel.

My yellow-white
double star

delivers its light
to nearby Earth

in eleven years flat,
which is pretty fast,

but my other boast
is Helen: she

loved me most
of all her hounds,

and you can’t beat that.
So I, unsurpassed

in her esteem,
made no sounds

when secretly
they left for Troy.

He was the dream
igniting the dark

scarcity of joy.
How could I bark?

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Skin remembers how

First touch, seventeen years ago. A hotel room in Hangzhou. 102 degree heat and a tiny baby in a striped split-pants outfit who has just been handed to you. Diaper rash. You take off her striped outfit and diaper and pull up your t-shirt and lay her down, stomach to stomach.

She sticks two fingers in her mouth and crinkles her dark eyes at you. You trace her sweaty little spine with one finger. Both of you are limp from the summer heat.

Hi, baby girl, you say.

Your skin and her skin, getting to know each other.

* * *

First kiss. The middle of the night. Rain drumming on a big tent in the woods by a river. Everyone asleep but you and the boy next to you. His hand silently smoothing your hair. The thrill of his skin-that-is-not-your-skin on yours. A quick smile the next morning, the brush of his fingers against yours under the picnic table.

* * *

Your elderly friend. The first time he’s left the big city in 37 years, the first time he’s been on a plane in 40. The first time he’s seen your house, sat at your kitchen table. He’s telling you how his mother used to rub the skin off boiled beans. He shows you with his fingers, rubbing them against his thumb.

“Like that,” he says.

You look at him, your shy and quiet friend who has lived his entire life in the same house, the one he lived in with his parents until they died, and suddenly you wonder if he has ever, even once, held a girl’s hand.

You reach across the table and hold his hand.

“You are precious to me,” you say. “Do you know that?”

He bends his head and nods.

* * *

“I was born in a body entirely covered and held together with skin,” writes your student. “And when I grew, my skin grew with me.”

You read her words and skin strikes you, for the first time, as alive. Of course it’s alive, you think, it’s an organ. It’s the largest organ in the body. But why did you never think of it as alive until just now?

You look at your hands, typing these words. At the veins like noodles just below the surface. At the scabs and scars and freckles and lines, none of which were there when you were born. You think of everything –the blood and muscles and bone and hidden organs– that your skin is protecting right now. Equal parts strength and fragility.

* * *

Your boy texts you a photo of his new tattoo. It takes you a while to comprehend it. Then: Wow, you text back.

It’s from the last lines of Book One of Paradise Lost, he writes. The most beautiful book I’ve ever read.

You imagine a long line of years stretching ahead of the skin that now holds his favorite words. You wonder how much it hurt, all those words, all those needles, all that ink.

The devil emerges from hell, he writes, and must pause to behold pure beauty for the first time.

You picture the scene, the devil, forced to stop and acknowledge the beauty of this world. You study the photo of your boy’s back and you remember it as it was the first time you saw him, when he was born. You carried him inside you while his skin was forming itself over that tiny, perfect body. You cried in fury and sorrow the first time a mosquito bit him. That first wound.

That is amazing, you message back. You amaze me.

Nothing for a few minutes. Then a small red heart appears on your screen.

* * *

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.

(Two Countries, by Naomi Shihab Nye)

Poem of the Week, by Alden Nowlan

Flossie at School
     – Alden Nowlan

Five laths in a cotton dress
was christened Flossie
and learned how to cry,
her eyes like wet daisies
behind thick glasses.

She was six grades ahead of me
and wore bangs; the big boys
called her “The Martian,”
they snowballed her home,
splashed her with their bicycles,
left horse dung in her coat pockets.

She jerked when anyone spoke to her,
and when I was ten
I caught up with her one day
on the way home from school,
and said, Flossie I really like you
but don’t let the other kids know I told you,
they’d pick on me, but I do like you,
I really do, but don’t tell anybody.
And afterwards I was ashamed
for crying when she cried.

For more information on Alden Nowlan, please click here: http://www.poemhunter.com/alden-nowlan/biography/

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From the archives, in honor of Lissa

All day today I kept returning to the photo of an old friend, lying in a bed pushed against a bank of windows in her house. Her husband sat in a chair and leaned over the side of the bed, her son held one of her i.v.-tubed hands and her daughter the other. She was smiling and so were they. The photo was taken yesterday morning, on the last full day of her life as her long and mighty battle drew to a close. No one who knew her was left untouched by her grace, her dark humor, her ferocious love of being alive. She left nothing unsaid. All those she loved knew they were loved. If energy remains constant, then she is still with us. From the archives, in honor of Lissa.

* * *

You get a reminder of it sometimes, when you walk by a house being built. Or when you’re tearing out a wall damaged by one of last winter’s ferocious ice dams. Or when your electrician friend comes to put in a new outlet in the room that has only one.

Touring a factory can do it too. A brewery, for example. The cavernous rooms, the grind and hum of machinery, the rattle of conveyor belts, the machines that fill the bottles, the giant vats of beer, the sour smell of fermentation.

Followed by the sight of perfectly packaged six-packs: brown bottles in their bright boxes, silently stacked on shelves. You see them in the store and, unless you consciously remind yourself, you forget where they came from. You don’t think about the mess, the grind, the chaos of their beginning.

When the wall of the house is torn open, it’s impossible to forget. Rough lathe and crumbled old plaster, newspapers from 1945 stuffed inside for insulation. Electrical cords writhing their way in twisted bundles up and down between floors.

If you hover in the room when the electrician is working on the outlet, watching and waiting, you will see sparks fly, the tiniest of fires.

This too will remind you of what is beneath the surface. All these reminders, all the time, should you choose to notice them: there is another life alongside this life.

Now you’re thinking of when writing is the easiest, which is when you’re not thinking. Your fingers are just tap-tapping away, and words appear on the screen and you look at them with interest, as if they were written by someone else.

Were they?

An image appears in your mind: a little bracelet made of red plastic beads next to a blue child’s ring. These were the treasures that you and some of your friends in fifth grade played King of the Mountain with one brief winter week. The snow piles at the elementary school were so high that year that you dug snow caves into them, made snow roads on top of them.

You buried the jewelry and searched for it. Why this game was so entrancing you don’t know, but all of you were entranced. Then came the day when the jewelry couldn’t be found, and the game ended.

The thing is, though, it’s still there. That red plastic bracelet, that little blue ring: they are still out there. Probably feet under the ground in the grass by the side of the red brick elementary school, but there.

All these years –almost your whole life, at this point– you have thought about them. The red bracelet. The blue ring.

Nothing goes entirely away. Some part of it stays.

Look at that small, square brown pillow with a pattern of leaves needlepointed on top. It was the first thing that caught your eye just now when you looked up. It’s carefully placed by the armrest of the couch in this room. Your grandmother made that pillow.

You look at it and she immediately fills your mind. You can hear her voice. You can see her hand, arthritic fingers and ropy veins. Now she’s laughing. Now she’s urging more raspberry popover and ice cream on you.

Doesn’t this mean that she’s still here? That some part of her is still with you, like the silent, unseen electricity running its way up and down every wall of this house?

Yesterday, a lovely day when the outdoors was made indolent by the sun, you passed two girls and a boy, late teens all, sitting on a stone bench by the lake. Laughing. Tugging down the shoulders of their tanks, flexing their biceps, each insisting their muscles were the biggest.

You wanted to stop and watch them, they were so beautiful. Smooth, smooth brown skin, white teeth, dark hair tied back. You walked away from them, listening to their easy talk. You tried to picture them fifty years hence, what they would be like then, if they would still know each other, still be together.

Then you imagined the bones and blood and ligaments and arteries just under the surface of that silken skin, how it is there right now. Hidden. Invisible. Doing its silent work.That shadow world, indivisible from the outer one in which we move. A world of spirits and memories, things you once held. The world where the stories begin.

Sometimes you get a glimpse of it. The torn-open wall, a presence on the stairs, a long-lost voice come whispering into a dream. Your grandmother, and that one line in that one letter: “What a beautiful life we had.”

Sometimes, falling asleep or waking up, there is the sensation of something just out of reach. A familiar stranger with you, hiding his face amidst a crowd of stars.

Poem of the Week, by Barbara Crooker

In the Middle
– Barbara Crooker

of a life that’s as complicated as everyone else’s,
struggling for balance, juggling time.
The mantle clock that was my grandfather’s
has stopped at 9:20; we haven’t had time
to get it repaired. The brass pendulum is still,
the chimes don’t ring. One day you look out the window,
green summer, the next, and the leaves have already fallen,
and a grey sky lowers the horizon. Our children almost grown,
our parents gone, it happened so fast. Each day, we must learn
again how to love, between morning’s quick coffee
and evening’s slow return. Steam from a pot of soup rises,
mixing with the yeasty smell of baking bread. Our bodies
twine, and the big black dog pushes his great head between,
his tail is a metronome, 3/4 time. We’ll never get there,
Time is always ahead of us, running down the beach, urging
us on faster, faster, but sometimes we take off our watches,
sometimes we lie in the hammock, caught between the mesh
of rope and the net of stars, suspended, tangled up
in love, running out of time.

For more information on Barbara Crooker, please click here: http://www.barbaracrooker.com/

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Poem of the Week, by Leigh Hunt

Jenny Kissed Me
– Leigh Hunt

Jenny kissed me when we met,
Jumping from the chair she sat in;
Time, you thief, who love to get
Sweets into your list, put that in;
Say I’m weary, say I’m sad,
Say that health and wealth have missed me,
Say I’m growing old, but add,
Jenny kissed me.

For more information on Leigh Hunt, please click here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/leigh-hunt

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