At The Common, we’re celebrating Poetry Month with new work by five of our contributors.
Fayum Portrait [Deal]
I’ve sent a map on wax paper–
What he loves arrayed as clumsy petals.
If it arrives,
someone will ink it in his back,
so it will go with him
like a paw stuffed in a casing,
boardwalk mojo to ward off the hail of RPG, AK,
FOB after FOB, Amputee Ward, TBI, Arlington.
Quasi-offering part-collateral, part-sympathetic,
as when he dabbed his thumb in red paint
brushed it under his eye, then mine, a contagion
to assuage what’s left,
as if one’s suffering staves another’s,
as if the animal might want it back.
The deal– if he makes it, I’ll lie down on the table.
Flower, flag, fist– he’ll draw whatever he wants
over my chest. If not, I’ll etch it in my face.
One day, our skins will say
what we wanted from each other.
Once a body owns a thing it offers it back.
Fayum Portrait [Martins]
Sometimes standing beside him,
I hear the wind whistling through
my brother, and martins drinking
through their porous wings.
I mean, seems to, or I hear
that way, and forget he was nursed
by centaurs, almost drowned
in armor by the god-hand. But if I place
a light against him, evidence–
tight hollow lines. In theory,
they run unto physics. In a backyard,
it hurts where light writes itself,
where hurt coils like a river slacking into time,
where I make the river a field
and let the field go.
James Hoch is the author of A Parade of Hands and Miscreants. He is Professor of Creative Writing at Ramapo College of NJ and Guest Faculty at Sarah Lawrence, and lives in the Hudson Valley.
Things I Will Never Say to Mr. DJ
You ask me, How young do you think is too young for me to date?
and I feel Oba’s machete slicing her flesh, see
amaryllis bloom pink, shield the place where her ear used to be.
I want you
to not be stupid
to hear my voice and see
a pashmina scarf dyed in Oshun’s irises to
look at me and feel
goats singing soft gold songs to
touch me and hear
ashes exfoliating your skin
to smell the chasm between us and taste
dancers whirling to drums inside calabashes
carried from Yorubaland to Trinidad.
I want you
to remember the lovely couple we made,
man and woman stopped by strangers on the street—
(ain’t black love beautiful?)
admirers we never corrected—then touch
the tips of your picket fence dreams and smell
curried mango bowing at my altar on a Thursday.
Mariam Williams is a Kentucky writer living in Philadelphia and pursuing an MFA in creative writing and a certificate in public history from Rutgers University-Camden. Her poetry has been published in The Feminist Wire, Cosmonauts Avenue, and Bozalta. Mariam currently is working on a chapbook that retells stories of silenced and condemned women of the Bible and on a memoir that explores intersections of faith, family, and feminism in her life.
I’ve watched the past
chew through her dreams.
The way a glass falls onto stone.
The way blood soaks cotton.
Thunder shook us –
we had to build in the dark flashes.
I could feel her heart beat in my fingers.
Shower of red leaves in the wind.
She held on to me
when they put the needle through her lip.
The triumph of knotweed and yarrow –
we took hold.
Margins rubbed away.
Her secrets crawled
under the house like an animal.
Inside – no tool bench,
no master, no den,
no dresses in the closet
no crib in the attic.
Only our hands.
Only our mouths.
Alison Prine’s collection of poems, Steel, won the Cider Press Review Book Award and was released in 2016. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Virginia Quarterly Review, Shenandoah, FIELD, Hunger Mountain, and Prairie Schooner among others. She lives in Burlington, Vermont where she works as a psychotherapist.
Tomorrow I fly east; my wife flies west.
Divided aims, a shared bed. A shared
darkness, wakeful with the prospect
of traveling. I hold a glass of wine
to settle me, as she lies beside me,
so quiet I can hear her silence
as the attempt to fall asleep, to loosen
tensions our daughter tightly wound,
whose bedtime stories’ last “The End”
falls like a final curtain, a tragic period
to the breathless run-on sentence of her day.
I study the nightfall in our room;
how darkness opens as my eyes adjust,
till it seems the room itself has tasted
what light there is, and savors it—
though it’s me who eagerly takes it in:
the fog of painted wall, mass of bed
and bureau, dark starfish of ceiling fan.
Soft yellow auras, behind windowshade
and door, seem to frame the darkness—
like gold frames that Whistler made
(the painter I’m leaving home
to study), to frame his studies
of the coming on of night.
I want to write this down, this poise,
this moment hung between two days,
this quiet quickening; but switching on the light
would spoil it, and roil my wife awake.
When it became too dark to paint
the London riverscape, Whistler learned
to memorize the scene, committing to his mind
the river’s glow against the shapes of shadows
on the far bank, the pinprick gold of gaslights.
He could dedicate his memory
to his art. And yet found so forgettable
his own children—infants bundled
to orphanage, his grown son barely
acknowledged. And how far, tomorrow,
my wife will travel to receive
an embryo—all we could do to conceive—
a composition of cells that carries within
a possible child. And again, the familiar pull
between the work I love (this expectant week
of haunting galleries), and love for my family.
But really, what choice? I love
both ways; so what if either
makes me long for the other? For now,
let me commit to memory
the gloom and glimmer of this room.
In my hand, the glass of wine collects
an ember of light I barely see, as I barely hear
her breath, now a rhythm of rest.
Tomorrow, we travel. Tonight,
I’m more like my daughter, riding on
my waking, thrilled by this three-day-old, cheap,
bottom-of-the-bottle wine, as Art and Life—
the long and the short of it—bicker like Gods
above the mythic vessel of my bed.
Place Names of the South Plains
They named the towns for what they saw,
which wasn’t much: Plains,
Sometimes they found a wrinkle
of irony, a little grin
against grimness: Earth, Muleshoe,
Needmore. Land so flat
the highest point might be hats
of a settler or two,
like Floydada, Idalou.
If they were to return today,
those founders, what would they find
to name? Maybe they would see
Shutdown, Allgone, or Onepump;
or the metroplex of Moved:
North Moved, South Moved, West Moved;
and then the remarkable
Stillgoing, and Holdover.
And because it’s hard to imagine
a place without imagining yourself
in it, I wonder, if they saw my car
parked, looking like the bubble
in some vast spirit level,
and me, squinting across a dun expanse
that seems to serve no human aim
but to anchor a round horizon,
and if they asked me its name,
would I tell them, Revery, or Lost?
William Wenthe’s fourth book of poems, God’s Foolishness, was published by LSU Press in April 2016. He has received poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Texas Commission on the Arts, and two Pushcart Prizes. He teaches at Texas Tech University.
Lines Written at Tyrone Guthrie
Two hours rambling over gorse-studded pasture. I’m hoarse
from shouting yellow yellower than the sun and more vanilla
than aether! Even the swans honk their approval of my out-
and-about and general brightening of the disposition. In this
country where every second shadow’s attached to a sinner,
they drink to excess but follow the hedgerows and stumble home
for dinner. Agnostic as I am, I haven’t talked to god
along a nature trail, nor met a god I ever liked that wasn’t
in a lotus posture: not Buddha – for I’m fond of women
and prefer Guanyin meditating amidst the marsh marigolds
or Mary, cross-legged, sniffing roses in a topiary manger,
or someone out of time like Gaia-Tellus who I believe
as I believe the Earth is round and spinning on a phallus.
I’m lost. We’re lost. God cast us out when Modernists
miscast him or wished him dead. And he’s been dead
ever since, or turned his back on us, a black monolith
in space the greatest telescope can’t penetrate. We’ve lost
the light from that old signal that goes back before the Big
Bang. That’s why our postmodernists obsessively observe
the sky for signs of icy H2O in distant universes and track back
now almost to the blast of the first Big Whimper, perhaps
just a temper-tantrum God’d thrown from another unbelieving
swarm of stars and planets, our parallel, our oldest lesson before
our sun was warm. Hell, what can I know beyond the mute
swan’s honk who, if his name were true, would be original
as silence, or sin, or sun, though I’m told there’s a hiss and hum
from the gases. We’re perfect asses here on earth. What’s it worth
to know that gods are gone, ghosts are phony, the fore-known
and the after-known are ignorant of us and us of them? It’s worth
my life, I guess, my sixty years vexed by the cradle that rocked me
from my first foundations, to my earnest vernal search, to my selva
oscura in the dark woods of middle life, to this very moment
growing always closer to the age of god who is ageless, unless
I clap my hands and scare off the swans and sing for all I’m worth,
though it be nothing, a yellow stain and sting along the hedgerow home.
Neil Shepard’s sixth and seventh books of poetry were both published in 2015: Hominid Up (Salmon Poetry, Ireland) and a full collection of poems and photographs, Vermont Exit Ramps II, (Green Writers Press, Vermont). His poems appear online at Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and Poem-A-Day (from the Academy of American Poets), as well as in several hundred literary magazines. He taught for many years in the BFA writing program at Johnson State College in Vermont and edited the literary magazine Green Mountains Review for a quarter-century. These days, he teaches poetry workshops at Poets House in Manhattan.