Celebrate Poetry Month with 9 new poems by our contributors!
A wind says nothing to the many tongues
of reeds who translate nothing into whisper.
This is how it begins. First silence. Song.
Then the singer. Then the singer tears
from the bending marshes and disappears.
I read somewhere there is no end to human
voices, to those we hear, how we hear them.
But enough of that. The funeral hymn
breathed through the pipes of the garden
is new, commissioned by the night to come.
Enough to start our walk among the grasses
and note the rise and fall, the music that is
not ours, alone, but every bladed wind
become the many. Every stillness, the one.
Your Quiet Book
Your great-grandmother’s nightie
is folded among the ruins.
So too the Indian costume
with its brown fringe and an infant’s
tee shirt reading Born at Home.
Plastic horses in a plastic bag
weave gradually their tails
into one tangle. You open
the gingham cover
of the cloth book that kept you
quiet in church. Shapes
and colors cut from felt are fixed
with metal snaps to the fabric.
On a later page, you tuck a baby
in one pocket (put me to sleep)
and a mirror in the other (look at me!).
In the ruins, all stories end
in a white bed under a firmament
of broderie anglaise. It will be
bedtime when we come to that point
with Mother inherent at the bedside
even if unillustrated. Til then
the burden might be too much
she says from the sofa across
the room, meaning the ruins
must be swept away. Meaning
you must sweep them soon.
Vaka eller Sova (Waking or Sleeping)
Why must we ever wake up?
Even the trees sleep
all through the season.
Are they breathing?
Hold your hand above
their mouths. Yes,
they’re still living. Finally
and in unison they shift
in their beds with a sigh.
Just under the surface,
their eyelids flutter before
they sink down again. Now
every one of us has made
our long way back to Autumn.
I shouldn’t say the trees dream
of squirrels because that’s
my dream. And actually
those eyelids seem sewn
into my face, not theirs. Trees
don’t have faces, but there’s one
I like to call husband
and the two there are sisters.
My father and mother
are over the mountain.
Sarah Rose Nordgren is the author of Best Bones, and her poems have appeared in journals such as American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, Agni, and elsewhere.
On Seeing “The Sorrows of Young Werther”
We filed into the opera house, a sea
of wool collars. On the backs of the seats,
the words of Sorrows scrolled in English.
“What a thing it is to be human!” cried Werther,
or so those blue screens told us.
The orchestra read its own language.
Werther fell in love with Lotte, then fell
harder. Sets fell away into darkness—
a kitchen filled with German children
became what looked like the Black Forest—
each blackness, swollen with anguish.
Love spiraled quickly into madness.
I switched off my screen. We were all in
the bedroom when the shotgun sounded.
Lotte bent to that unhappy man
as Hamlet stood over Ophelia:
each reading the other’s still face,
understanding perfectly what they found there.
Hannah Jansen’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry Ireland Review, Yew Journal, and Naugatuck River Review, among other publications.
Samson, I Guess
His bicep muscle turns under his skin
like a rat in the belly of a boa.
“What’s your worst fear?”
My cousin Lou,
one-time Mr. New Jersey, has a t-shirt
wrapped around his muscle-thick head like a turban
protecting a fresh guido-black dye job.
I’m eighteen and have no fears but I say
something about suffering, about feeling pain.
“Wrong,” he says, “Your worst fear
is losing your hair.”
Portrait of Camille Roulin
As van Gogh saw, this boy
had a feminine jaw and cheek,
a folded, sick sailor gaze
and red, sad lips like leather buttons
pursed and plump
and as he watched from the wall
opposite where I stood
writing in the hall of portraits
I saw his eyes bright blue
under that large blue cap study
the slow progress of my hand,
as if studying a clock
and itching to move, and I was
impatient, too, like the grackles
I saw flash blue iridescence
once, in a slanted light, waiting
in the tree above our garden,
folding their wings and unfolding again
each time the branch breathed
and diving, one by one, to feed,
and you returned so coolly
to tell me you found the Schiele
in the next room and it seems
each portrait lies (even Camille)
and we lie but Schiele tells the truth
with a young woman’s blood-orange
vagina and with approximate lines
as he saw her body unfold
like a constellation against empty space
suspended by invisible strings.
Michael Lamanna is currently completing his first collection of original poetry as well as a translation of Rilke’s Duino Elegies.
For Tripoli, Lebanon, 2014 (after Buddy Wakefield and Will Evans)
My town got in a car and sped and shot my cousin
dead, drove back, shot again to make sure.
His last word was ummi  and my town
is also my ummi.
My town is cheap. They call her
“the mother of the poor.” Yehya the carpenter
can duplicate a Pottery Barn bedroom
for quarter the price. My town is the mother
of the poor, her children sell Chiclets
and barazeq  on the streets, on the streets one boy
kept telling me, “I go to school,” and I said,
“Never stop,” and one day he did.
I wonder whether he has been taught to place
the blade of a pencil sharpener under
his tongue, spit it out in an offender’s face.
My town is the mother of soap,
she crafts it out of olive oil,
adds honey or flower petals or herbs,
adds bullets when it’s a boy, firecrackers
when children pass tests,
adds car honks when it’s a arooss .
My town likes to boast she is the mother
of the North, which in Lebanese also means “left,”
which, she likes to remind me, is where the heart is.
My town is the mother of stories. She says
a great snake lies in the darkness
of her ancient citadel, says she was once
the mother of orange orchards
(inhales to remember their scent),
that she is much more than her name, which means
“three cities.” “Ha!” she laughs, “I have seen
the Assyrian the Persian the Roman the Byzantine the Caliphate
the Seljuk the Crusader the Mamluk the Ottoman and the French.”
When I ask her what more she will see, she falls
silent, then asks me what I’d like to eat.
My town tastes like kaak and falafel and chocolat mou and burnt books .
My town tastes like Allahu Akbar on a Eid morning, which never
tasted like fear, my town is the mother
of fear. It has been growing in her womb
for years, and she doesn’t know who
it will look like when it’s born, whether
it will speak in tongues unknown
to her. Perhaps she is hoping for a stillborn.
Ummi is Arabic for “mother.”
Barazeq is a kind of Arabic sweet.
Arooss is Arabic for “bride.”
 The burnt books are a reference to the burning of Tripoli’s Saeh library, in January 2014.
You look up from the newspaper
and it’s the season of giving over,
what wind does to cherry blossoms
what a cherry lets the wind do,
storms around the roof eves.
You rise from the kitchen table
and walk out into the yard, petals
curling and brown fleck the grass.
You turn back toward your lover
who is no longer your lover
as if there is something to say
to confirm the hour. But words,
like a dry limb, come clean off.
And the sound is death cracking.
And the sound is who you are
flaking off in the wind.
You do not cry. You grow warm
to the swirl and scattering leaves,
and the shape of being gone.
Advice to Son as a Garden Statuary
I am not sure you understand
what I am saying regarding ticks,
about mice and voles being more
ridden than elegant yard-strewn deer
sporting that stupid you-don’t-see-me pose.
Just because one bears a name
doesn’t mean one belongs forever.
Also, wearing underwear on your head to school
will so haunt thy days. Pay attention to Keats,
who knew some things about disease
and statues. Left alone long enough,
they harden. Ask your crap dad, his hands
trafficking air, his rage vein filling
like a levee with the blood memory
of a failure he’s trying to overcome.
When he loses his shit, he believes
something more solid grows inside you
and heavy since you were born
that he’s carried bed unto bed,
drinking the good sweet smell.
I don’t know what’s more laughable:
faith in certainty, or certainty in faith–
The light disbelieving deer, or stone-still you
staring blank-faced on the lawn
watching your father’s love turn him weird.
I don’t know a lot of things, least of all
how to live without casualty.
I come from a long line of cagey smirkers
lurching toward reckless affection.
Stunning! The valley between what you expect
and what his ridiculous heart delivers.
One day: Molokai. The next: Korengal.
Mostly: stuttering hug and shrug.
If you could hover above
the daily topiary in one of those Lego
helicopters, you would see the beauty
of this fail, how it goes way beyond taste
or trust. Seriously, it would make you weep,
as if seeing brought conviction.
Do you remember that kind of weeping?’