Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Sunday afternoons at Claire Carlyle's

My mother and father, light-
skinned, but too new

to make the upper cut,

were, nevertheless, welcomed
into the marble foyer

under an icebox-sized chandelier
to mix martinis with double-edged

men and women trained to outwit
and out-white the whites. Almost all

were light and straight-featured
enough to pass—some did,

some didn't.
Claire's brother Bob

passed. If seen weekdays,
he wasn't

to be spoken to. Light and dark
did the same—an inward

move to protect those
fortunate enough to choose.

But why did my mother

(who looked as white
as Loretta Young—and as beautiful!) see

Bob one weekday walking
toward her up Woodward

and cross
to the other side? Why,

when anyone would
only have seen

two white people?
It was something in my mother

not visible: in her

mind's eye
she was black and wore the robe

of it over her fine features; but

just in case

some inner misstep
might magnify and fix

them (the inner world

being vast and treacherous!)—

as if they were slaves running
for their lives.

-Toi Derricotte

Thursday, December 16, 2010



Then one of the students with blue hair and a tongue stud
Says that America is for him a maximum-security prison

Whose walls are made of RadioShacks and Burger Kings, and MTV episodes
Where you can’t tell the show from the commercials,

And as I consider how to express how full of shit I think he is,
He says that even when he’s driving to the mall in his Isuzu

Trooper with a gang of his friends, letting rap music pour over them
Like a boiling Jacuzzi full of ballpeen hammers, even then he feels

Buried alive, captured and suffocated in the folds
Of the thick satin quilt of America

And I wonder if this is a legitimate category of pain,
or whether he is just spin doctoring a better grade,

And then I remember that when I stabbed my father in the dream last night,
It was not blood but money

That gushed out of him, bright green hundred-dollar bills
Spilling from his wounds, and—this is the weird part—,

He gasped “Thank god—those Ben Franklins were
Clogging up my heart—

And so I perish happily,
Freed from that which kept me from my liberty”—

Which was when I knew it was a dream, since my dad
Would never speak in rhymed couplets,

And I look at the student with his acne and cell phone and phony ghetto clothes
And I think, “I am asleep in America too,

And I don’t know how to wake myself either,”
And I remember what Marx said near the end of his life:

“I was listening to the cries of the past,
When I should have been listening to the cries of the future.”

But how could he have imagined 100 channels of 24-hour cable
Or what kind of nightmare it might be

When each day you watch rivers of bright merchandise run past you
And you are floating in your pleasure boat upon this river

Even while others are drowning underneath you
And you see their faces twisting in the surface of the waters

And yet it seems to be your own hand
Which turns the volume higher?

-Tony Hoagland

Saturday, December 11, 2010


I Did This to My Vocabulary

The moon is my alibi. My tenders throw hissy fits.
My scalp’s at the foot of the precipice.
My lume is spento, there’s a creep in my cellar.
You can stand under my umbrella, Ella.

Who put pubic hair on my headphones?
Who put the ram in Ramallah?
I’m just sitting here spinning my spinning wheels—
where are the snow tires of tomorrow?

The llama is burning! My heart is an ovary!
Let’s chase dawn’s tail across state lines,
sing “Crimson and Clover” over and overy,
till wonders are taken for road signs.

My fish, fast and loose, shoot fish in a kettle.
The boys like the girls who like heavy metal.
On Sabbath, on Slayer, on Maiden and Venom,
on Motorhead, Leppard, and Zeppelin, and Mayhem . . .

-Michael Robbins

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


We Have the Technology

By the sparklet of certain ciliates cesium
practices its cricket song.

Am I supposed to be impressed? My smoothie
comes with gps.

Take a left at that crustacean. You—yes, you,
with the crisis Isis eyes.

By Odin’s beard, this is snowier than usual. We can
always burn the first folio.

Go bug a dandelion. You’ll have
the elephant of surprise.

-Michael Robbins

Friday, December 3, 2010


The Book of the Dead Man (The Numbers)

Live as if you were already dead.
—Zen admonition

1. About the Dead Man and the Numbers

The dead man is outside the pale.
The dead man makes space for himself the way a soccer player moves to the place to be next.
The angles shift, the pace slows and picks up, it matters more, then less, then more, then less,
and others run by in both directions.
One of them may slow to stoke the embers of a failing thought.
For example, the dead man restores the poet's ambition to plumb the nature of existence.
Sometimes he, sometimes she, asks the dead man what it is to live as if one were already dead.
It's the feel of an impression in the earth, a volume in space, an airy drift upward.
It's downwind and upwind at the same time.
It's a resonance to wrap one's mind around, like a bandage beneath which the healing may happen.
It's the idea of turf beyond the neighborhood.
It's a cold flame in a hot season.
It's what you do facing the guns.

2. More About the Dead Man and the Numbers

Here we go, with what it takes.
The dead man wakes in a dream, lungs aching as if the night were a stairway or a hill.
Is he indoors or out, an insider in public or an outsider at home?
He hears a splash of tissue in a knee and a click as his shoulder slips the edge of an obstruction.
You would think he thinks himself awake, but the dead man does not.
He has a way of making the ephemeral last, the rusting slow, the leaf hang, the bullet hold up in midair.
In the waking world, there are too many of us to tell, the ushers are overwhelmed by the numbers
wanting a box seat.
The preacher offering a future world, the historian waxing nostalgic, and the dead man underwriting
them is what it takes.
How is it to be the dead man among shifting loyalties?
It means living in the interstices, swimming in the wake of the big boats, crossing the borders on
back roads.
It means taking the field with those whose lives are numbered.
It means finding space for when it will matter.

-Marvin Bell

Thursday, December 2, 2010


The lone Bos primigenius on the hill at night,

do you suppose she ever wonders
in her laconic, bovine way
what the stars could possibly be?

Does the Tyto alba contemplate
the moon’s topography from his
hay loft perch or what mysteries might
lay on its darker side?

The Nephilia clavata centered in his jeweled web,

does he receive strange frequencies
(or just old radio transmissions)
on its taut wires and filaments?

What about the sleepless philosopher/poet
taking his thoughts out for a late-night
walk around the neighborhood?

Does the universe leave cryptic
fortune cookie clues and candid
little polaroids of the Bigger Picture
laying around for him to find
and piece together later?

Or is this semi-educated fool merely
adrift on a sea of his own imagining
in the leaky row-boat of his skull

and nothing but a kerosene lamp,
a stone jug of corn liquor
and an old typewriter on which
he may compose

such (otherwise) ridiculous
and impertinent


-Jason Ryberg, 2010