April 2014 Poetry Feature

For this month’s poetry feature, we’re publishing five new poems from The Common print contributors.

Barista pouring coffee

ANGELA VERONICA WONG 

 

(From) animal expeditions

Chapter 5
thirty and
childless is
this waste the
leopard says
to the
antelope i
think we lose
ourselves a
bit on the
phone when i
don’t see
your face the
leopard says
on the phone
to the
antelope i
want to know
what it is like
to be a
cyclops
searching for
odysseus and
grasping at
sheep i left
my water
bottle at
home the
leopard says
on skype to
the antelope
now when i
go to the
airport i’ll
have to buy a
bottle of
water what a
waste of
money

 

A completely
different
chapter

one hundred
thousand
dollars worth
of sheep walk
off a cliff chip
and i can’t
believe it but
who would
joke about
sheep what a
way to die
chip says but
fifteen
hundred
sheep walked
off the cliff only
four hundred
fifty sheep
died i read
and chip says
what and i read
the rest
were
cushioned by
the four
hundred fifty
sheep that died
we said
how awful
how awful
how awful

 

but at least
when you
search i’m
feeling down

the more
popular
options
indicate a
hope to stop
feeling so
down

 

at night i rub
chemicals
into my body
so it can
achieve
perfect
softness chip
and i have
been hunting
big game cats
my jaw hurts
i can only
open my
mouth
halfway when
i eat i adapt i
make half-
sandwiches
it’s easier on
my jaw

 

Angela Veronica Wong is the author of how to survive a hotel fire (Coconut Books 2013). She is on the internet at www.angelaveronicawong.com.

 

SARA LONDON

 

Acts

Let me tell you
about the dead. They
are different from
you and me. They
are dispossessed
of opinions earlier
than we, and it
does something to us,
makes us hard where
they are now soft
earth, cynical where
they are honest dust.
In a way, unless you are
dead, too, it is difficult
to understand: They
have less currency
but vast luck. The March
sun doesn’t ask
for their attention
to the labor of the day,
the moon requires
no toil by night.
The marrow makes
new tunnels
to somewhere.

So when
you go between
cities, remember, the
one who feeds, spoils, schools,
frightens and excludes you,
has another notion
of the ice or the grass
or the different dead.
When you dangle
your legs in the river
and the fickle current
threads through toes
long ago toweled dry
and tickled one
at a time, lean and drink
the face that swims
in place, drool
again unabashedly,
say boo before
he gets to.

 

Between the Dead

Their manners

are impeccable;

they never interrupt,

 

are cowed or cruel;

the right of way

is always ours.

 

They are discreet,

unlike the struck stones,

or leaves overhead —

 

a thousand pendants

of jaunty golden light,

some, like jaundiced

 

dreams, dropping slow.

A vast wheezing

engines the air, lofting

 

oceans. Saturday’s

cars on crisp missions

sail past, fathers

 

unfrothing — skreeks,

whistles and tats

in the firs, the incising

 

of squirrels fattening.

Unsung Sundays spool

out. I walk between

 

the dead, righting

spilled plastic pots

of blooms purpling —

 

bending,

straightening,

practicing.

 

 

Sara London is the author of The Tyranny of Milk (Four Way Books). She teaches creative writing and literature at Mount Holyoke College.

 

MANOHAR SHETTY

 

Survivor

(for Riya)

My daughter brings a crocodile
Home, its snout bound tight
With rope, its buckteeth clenched.
Untangled from a fisherman’s net,
It lies still on our strip of lawn,
Its tail serrated as a saw, its hide
Like chainmail. We stare
Back at its staring eye
From our safe balconies
As my daughter and her team
Haul it like a palanquin
Into a purring pick-up. Accustomed
Only to lost kittens and pups,
We watch in suburban awe as they
Set off in a swirl of dust
For that remote river, green
With slime, but home
To their captive and its kind,
Their ridged heads floating like islets;
Or sunning themselves on the banks
Where birds peck clean their
Yawning cavities, busy as dentists,
And where they’re out of reach
From the stench of the tannery
And those spotlit arcades
Of shoes, belts, wallets,
And other accessories.

Manohar Shetty has published poems in journals around the world, including Shenandoah, Chelsea, New Letters, and Rattapallax.

 

DANIEL BOSCH

 

To a Barista

O Happy Grief!

—Auden

 

 

My venti, double-shot, no-foam, extra-soy
Latté got to me extra-hot, so I
Slipped an extra dollar in the broken cup
At the register, where extroverted “Scott”
Charms patrons with the extra pumps of joy
In his palaver as he exchanges change
Or slides an extra unbleached paper cuff
Over the bottom of an extravagance.

 

But it was you who ground the grounds I sip
The nectar of, and it is you—not “Scott”—
Whose lower lip offers a ring to which I’d clip
Love’s carabiner, and it is your tat
And your blue hair I find I’m staring at
Over a latté that got me extra-hot.

 

 

Three sounds at the end of the name of the signature drink you call out,
The final syllables of “Double Tall Skim Cappuccino,”

 

End in vowels that sound their own names,
Terminate in long, singable phonemes,

 

Such that abstract “Time” gives form to, or orders, your order,
And temporality is made audible, nearly tangible, by the expression of your need,
Even as it masks need: for the scripted “Double Tall Skim Cappuccino”—
A bit of corporate-speak, written in Seattle—denies your deeper thirst

 

For a philosophy that is physical, felt in words, and acknowledged
Tacitly, by smiling into your apron, as if into the depths of language,

 

While your pink fingertips let five coins fall into my hand,
And the soft ends of your fingers, releasing seventeen cents

 

Idly trace, on my palm, a tiny, timeless hieroglyph,
Distractedly revising, once again, my love-line’s eternal palimpsest.

 

 

Is the motherfucker sitting next to me
A poet, too? Crabbed, scribbled lines of text,
Mostly crossed out; nibbled pencil; donut crumbs
Aloft in auburn chest hair; pseudo-perplexed
Expression as a subtly ribald pun
Occurs and is rejected as too dumb,
And then is wisely reconsidered? In this context,
He’s Chaucer! He’s Shakespeare! He’s Walt Whitman!

 

No. In this contest, I write the hero’s
Verses. I memorialize your name.
In my figures, my images, my metaphors
You will live forever. My lines lay claim
To your infinitely caffeinating eros.
My table is beside a wall of mirrors.

 

 

A Clean Well-lighted Place

We all read Hemingway, so we all pity
Ancient, deaf, brandy-besotted men scarred
By light which falls to terraces through leaves.
We all read Hemingway, so we all hate the petty
Younger waiter who can only see as far
As the end of his own prick, and who believes
The older, kinder waiter is a fool.
We all read Hemingway in middle school,

 

When we haven’t yet tried to walk with saucers
Stacked at our table; when we haven’t yet cut
A hanged uncle down; before we know what loss is.
You made my Mocha Latté at half-past eight.
Starbucks’ rule is customers out by ten, but
We all read Hemingway, so you stand and wait.

 

 

Moby-Dick, Or The Whale

In Spanish you can see a question coming:
A trigger’s curl, a reader’s fingerhold
That swells the surface-page as whales advance.
If sperm tack leeward, heads like mighty thumbs,
The trigger’s curl stiffens its resistance,
But triggers always do what they are told.

 

Does Heidi Klum love Seal? In Starbucks I download
Café con Musica while harpoons score
A milk made maculate by prints of whales.
Did Ahab sense his first mate at the door?

 

In “Kissed by a Rose” the first mate has his doubts.
In Starbucks music splits the mermaid’s tail.
One day you are in, and the next day, you are out.
The mermaid on my cup was born a seal.

 

 

When I consider how three bucks is spent
On one venti con leche, which lasts a half an hour;

 

How half the time I can’t find a free power outlet;
And how I can’t prevent myself from half-

 

Listening to our tongue—dinged, hammered, and bent
In half by a professor misreading Milton,

 

By a union steward who still speaks mill town,
By a chocolate-smeared toddler who’s melting down,

 

By the last tween to beat Aliens vs. Predator,
By the doctor who prescribed my mom’s Miltown,

 

By a sun-bleached MILF who beats her daughter
Or a BFF hitting on his BFFL,

 

Each one of them leaning on a cell—
You are still Pavlov, and your smile is still a bell.

 

 

I am in line. I am in line again.
The sea has crashed against again, and wells,
Willingly. I am a swell of ink: my I ams
Never cease. It is my aim to see you.

 

I am to see without without distortion;
Intelligibly to graphite graph; to ink
Indelibly. I am my aim, an order.
I am to ink skin not my skin, to see you.

 

A doctor slapped me. I came to in line
For food, warmth, school, the slide, a job, the john.
I am my place in line. What other aims
Without without could I from graphite draw?
In line is certainty. For it I choose to.
I am to see to it that I do not lose you.

 

 

an EKG

My therapist calls it the “Rio Grande,”
The dream she has no trouble understanding:

 

I’m at a vista point. It’s called “The Three Lips.”
I drop a dime into the Viewing Scope

 

So I can study, six-thousand feet below,
Their muddy river craft stuck on a shoal

 

Of micro-foam, three cardiologists
Who diagnose me based on the rough drafts

 

I’ve written in cups, in sepia, in sips’
Weak strata, milk streaked on canyon walls,

 

Who measure out my life on café stools
In geologic time, and always read false

 

Crises in the sediments: they think I hope
In time you will return my sentiments.

 

 

Green apron on a thin brass hook,
You didn’t hang yourself.

 

Green apron on a bad finger
Crooked to say, “Come closer,”

 

I have outlasted you again
(This will all be in my book.)

 

Green pennant of my defeat,
Green sail ripped from the masthead,

 

Green girl posing for a drapery sketch
(Green folds enclosing nothing),

 

You didn’t hang yourself—
Why should I? Green harbinger,

 

When one shift ends
The next begins.

 

 

Daniel Bosch is a Senior Editor at Berfrois.  His series of meditations on poets’ epitaphs will run April 28th through May 2nd at The Paris Review Daily.

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