James Arthur

Children’s Book

In which a newborn cricket walks across a field,
unable to reply to the greetings of the mantis, the moth,
and the dragonfly, until his rubbing of wing on wing

becomes a sound that can speak for him. When the last page turns,
the book itself makes a chirruping. Here is the church, and the steeple.
Here is the coffee table where the child lines up a squad

of plastic people. Can the child tell the difference
between himself and other things? He totters back and forth
on a tractor mounted on a spring. Here’s the tension

of a string pulled tight, and the child’s father rolling over and over
and over in the night: the cricket book, after much rough reading,
now chirrups nightly on its own. Finally the father, knowing

what must be done, cuts into the book with a sturdy paring knife,
looking for whatever little engine, whatever little part,
makes the lifelike cricket sound. Here is the trailer, the baler,

the harrow, the plough. Can a stem grow up from inside a stone?
Here is how to sit in silence and be alone. Here’s the yard
where yesterday the child sat watching as blowing branches made

and remade daggers of light and shade. The book’s voice box,
to the father’s eye, looks like a dime-sized bicycle bell,
and as he pries it free, the chirruping intensifies,

becoming something like the death cry of a creature
with an actual beating heart; something like a metal prong
banging indifferently on another metal part.

 


 

(first published in New York Review of Books, July 2016)

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Stephen Kuusisto

Post-Orphic

Tonight I felt it in my ribs:
A flood of green in the marrow,

And I decided to live right here
And sing sometimes.

I pulled a book from its shelf,
Held the minutiae of the world

Open like a killdeer’s wings.
I’ve lived without names

For plants and trees.
What happens now?

What happens?

 

 

R. S. Thomas

This

I thought, you see, that on some still night,
When stars were shrill over his farm,
And he and I kept ourselves warm
By an old fire, whose bars were bright
With real heat, the truth might ripen
Between us naturally as the fruit
Of his wild hedges, or as the roots,
Swedes and mangolds, he grew then.

No luck; the thought hopefully sown
On such evenings never could break
The mind’s crust. Keeping my own
Company now, I have forsaken
All but this poor basement of bone,
Where the one dry flame is awake.

 

 

 

Matt Rasmussen

Reverse Suicide

The guy Dad sold your car to
comes back to get his money,

leaves the car. With filthy rags
we rub it down until it doesn’t shine

and wipe your blood into
the seams of the seat.

Each snowflake stirs before
lifting into the sky as I

learn you won’t be dead.
The unsuffering ends

when the mess of your head
pulls together around

a bullet in your mouth.
You spit it into Dad’s gun

before arriving in the driveway
while the evening brightens

and we pour bag after bag
of leaves on the lawn,

waiting for them to leap
onto the bare branches.

James Davis May

Basil

To get him out of the house so she and her husband
can have a few minutes of real arguing, the woman
sends their child out into the garden at night
to pick basil leaves for the tomato sauce she’s making.
The boy forgets his flashlight, but knows enough
not to go back inside, plus the moon is bright and full,
filling up the open sky above the yard, like a face
peering over a cradle. The moon, the smell of basil,
how peaceful the house looks when he isn’t in it.

Molly Bashaw

Every Time I Have Never Been Here Before

Dark beans
string their velvet tongues.
A horse eye blinks

through a curtain of mane,
purple the shake of black, black
the shade of sound. Nights

the nightshades undress and sing,
mares whip the air cantering.
The field reveals another node.

 

 

 

Thomas Zimmerman

Zimmerman and Poetry

He googles Zimmerman and poetry
when he feels low. The point? A poet is
a junkyard dog; the published poem, a bone.

Most readers give you twenty seconds. Then
you’d better give them something back, or else
you’ll end up teaching, never to atone.

He drinks an ale called Anger. Two-thirds gone.
What’s next? That cheap Shiraz that vibrates by
the stereo? He’ll workshop now. Alone.

Next time you want to die, remember just
how good you feel right now. This jagged verse
has snagged a drifting petal, scratched a stone.

So what’s a poem? A rhythm, and a tone.
So what’s this flesh we lug around? A loan.