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Poems 2000 page 2


Back to poems 2000

Poems from 1999

Poems from 1998


Brian Johnstone

To Live Apart


That faint booming as cars coast across the bridge,
the ravenous slap of wind on glass
conspire to turn the thoughts in one direction:

your going.  A night like any might have been
before you crossed the road, waited for the lift
that you'd been taking there for years.  I watched you go,

dividing in my mind the spoils of that brief war,
taking pictures from their nails, photographs from frames
that later, in the garage, I would break.  The images

I kept, buried them beneath the surface of my days,
below the passports, door keys, airline tickets,
beneath the scars.

The tissue heals, knits back. The fabric of the mind
repairs itself.  I listen, waiting at the corner of the road,
wondering, what was that sound?

Of Earth


Six foot down, the edges cut
with some precision,
the sky in water at the foot. I know

that you'd have done it better,
stripped the turf, laid out the peats
in rows like mortuary slabs.

Last night I'd grasped
your callused palm, held it cold
and lined and crazed, wind dried

as the topmost of the stack,
drained the glass you'd left, brown
and shimmering at the foot.

Now, the ropes being down,
I pass between the gates and see you
stitched into the fence,

this web of ancient twine, grey
and weathered with respect.
I will not see you when I turn away.

The Cut


The power was cut, shut off an hour ago,
but still the video's slow pulse ticks on,
as time's perfection stumbles with its lines.

The light withdrew, reeled back as from a blow;
the warmth of music could not last for long.
The power was cut, shut off an hour ago.

The light bulbs all blinked once and ceased to shine,
the radio fell mute, forgot its song
as time's perfection stumbled with its lines.

At first, a severed artery, I know,
pumps life and soul out till the blood is gone.
The power was cut, shut off an hour ago.

We fumbled in the darkness, then, to find
a box of matches, dropped them, got it wrong,
as time's perfection stumbled with its lines.

A candle lit and light has stopped the flow
although the power was cut some time ago.
We huddle in its glow, try to define
our time's imperfect stumbling with its lines.


Stazja McFadyen

To Beth, Janis, and All the Bobbies


Beth has lately come to mind.
 The other night singing Janis Joplin 
 a cappella walking across the parking lot
 to my Mercedes Benz and now, oh, Lord, 
 won't you buy me a better way 
 to say goodbye
 to lost and distant friends.
 
 My Beth was acoustic from Houston Street, 
 braless homeless hippie chick
 awaiting a spirit sister
 who must have been me.
 
 Beth Reilly, so Irish her father's heart pumped whiskey.
 My daddy's veins ran clear with vodka.
 Beth was her own mother,
 raising  herself like an army of orphans.
 I had yet to find my fight.
 
 I threw away my velvet dresses
 for hand-me-down bell-bottom hip-hugger denims 
 patched with scraps of American flag
 worn religiously not like a felony.
 
 Street-wise Beth with a voice, a six-string guitar,
 and a friend's floor to crash on.
 One of those Village tenements you cupped your hands,
 aimed your sidewalk shout at Joe's apartment window,
 yelled, "Hey, Joe," until anyone opened the door.
 
 Supporting ourselves on spare-change budget,
 we worked the streets but not for Johns.
 We weren't the kind to turn a Times Square trick
 but we had Bobbies, plenty of Bobbies from Brooklyn to Boston,
 Bobbies who gave us solace and songs.
 
 Bobby Dylan's "I Shall Be Released,"
 "Me and Bobby McGee," Joplin style,
 we sang  on corners for quarters
 from August till Janis's final October.
 
 Panhandled Bobby Banks in Manhattan one Saturday morning. 
 By lunch, we were instant family 
 taking up Brooklyn Heights residence 
 at Bobby's townhouse sublet on Joralemon Street. 
 He substituted Beth and me for the dislocated daughters
 he lost between middle-aged crazy and Binghamton, N.Y.
 
 We snatched stray-cat Bobby off the sidewalk outside Bellevue.
 Mongrel, lost and hungry, Corvette stolen, ditched in Jersey.
 Took him home to Joralemon Street.
 Alley-cat Bobby pissing on sheets for a week of come-down nights.
 Nine-lives Bobby, we landed him back on his feet.
 
 Come September, hitchhiked to Boston.
 Beth had another Bobby in her repertoire, 
 a former nun turned woman married Jimmy jazz musician,
 raising their two-toned baby in basement apartment 
 off Boylston Street.
 Bobby and Jimmy knew the score, 
 played their family coda of love,
 greeted us at their kitchen door
 like there was room for more.
 
 Lost our youth in their living room 
 October Sunday afternoon
 when we got word that Janis Joplin
 would never sing the blues again.
 We grieved a friend singing, "I Shall Be Released."
 I was consumed to leave,
 go home to see if my father was still alive.
 My explanation was goodbye.
  
 When I knew Beth she was younger and older than me.
 The Beth lately on my mind is a stranger somewhere back East.
 And hurry up, Lord, 'cause I still need
 a better way to say goodbye.


Kevin MacNeil

The Room


The room was plain and expensive,
stuck like a squint eye
in the College of Inquisitive Sheep.
The window witnessed well-behaved 
sunsets, mischievous stars and 
me.

And you.

There, on that dumb hard bed
I re-nightmared the hotpinintheeye
of laser surgery, I traced waterfalls 
to source, I sent poems fireworking
enough to seduce you.

The room is exactly
as it was, the same sun sets,
the sheep might as well
be clones: only the mirror sincerely
remembers and does not know
what to make of me,
makes of me
something transparent, transient and old,
a blinding, trembling tear.

Lloret de Mar


Big sun! Flip-flops cast off, the first shock
of hot particular sand, a griddle-dance towards

naked freedom. The teenage itch to be
unanticipated
in a life girl-brinily splintered.

Each sunbeat slow-wings a scent of sun
lotion. Inner perfume of you.
The heaving ocean.

Back home, you will be sauntering
in tight, cold circles,
a first wedding ring.

I'm all laid out,
the sun darkening my sleep.
Ach, a ghaoil ghil, this was no break.

My hurt skin weeps.
'Ach a ghaoil ghil' - [Gaelic] 'But, my white love'


Rochelle Mass

4 Women


spread avocado 
mixed with
horseradish and 
tabasco 
over 
chunks of bread with 
sesame seeds round the edge.  
One has a husband 
with a cane, 
coloestomy and 
a knee replacement.  
Sleeps most of the day
and little of the night.
One had a husband
who left her as
the children left for 
marriage
college 
India.
One threw out her 
husband.  She's got 
an Arab now
who won't leave his wife
but brings chickens
and apples from 
the Galilee, 
love 
in the mornings.
One writes letters
to a man 
she doesn't know,
waits for proof that
she was heard.

4 women  
spread avocado 
mixed with 
horseradish 
and tabasco 
over 
chunks of bread with 
sesame seeds 
round the edge.  

That Monday


skies bellowed with sand, Afula jaundiced, 
the Sachne pools lost the sharpness of glass,
became a sea of pudding. 
  
It was Monday, the air took on the feel of 
mustard seed,  filled sidewalk cracks with kernels 
that got as dark as curry.  Tables and sills 
in my house grew moody 
under ochre.  

Winds like these, say the experts, haven't blown 
our way since '41, and I thought that was war time 
when my grandmother's brothers 
were taken away, 
didn't return.  

I look for signs in the air that feels more like 
Dahab than spring in March.  I look into 
the garden, a tulip, the first of 30 I planted 
in winter
has dared to appear. 

Holding the Earth


A sharp wind brings Golan voices down 
into the valley where I can hear them.  Sounds 
like a rockslide, coarse scrub of grain and 
the spiral of fissures.  A frantic undertow.  
The voices want no change, want 
to keep their place in that massive reach of land.  

In the early years, groups of children, my daughters too, 
were trucked up there to clear rocks and boulders
smooth the surface into a welcoming place.  
Pears and apples are picked now through fall and winter
brought south to local markets.  
The trees are woods, throw shadows 
dark as grief.  
Crops and cattle are rooted there.  
Soldiers have fallen keeping that place safe.  

Golan voices spike questions
hurl them at anyone who'll listen. 
People there seem to be lying low
like leaves coming down, 
animals at bay 
waiting for the chase, stirring trouble   
holding the earth.   


Fiona Robyn

Living Things


I have carried living things in my hands all week, sneaked up on
daddy-long-legs, pulled them off painted walls and held their brittle bodies.
I've picked up blue-black beetles like shiny stones, moved them
from inside rooms to out, they stick to your thumb, they seem
happy enough to cling on. Best of all the two young frogs
who'd come onto the kitchen tiles to see what they could find.
I watched them bending their tiny legs with toothpick bones inside,
felt their rubbery skin against mine as they pushed away, they were amazing.
I have held living things in my hands all week, knowing
that if I wanted I could close the space between my fingers.
And I think how it might have been for those two frogs, to be lifted up
that high, that fast, and when the light comes back they could be anywhere, 
to be placed on gravel, to look around for something, to crawl towards it. 


Michael Rothenberg

100 White Roses


At the restaurant my kid has plate of fried shrimp
A man beside him takes the plate away
Hey, those are my son's shrimp!
I beat him up, fortunately
My son wakes me with a cup of coffee
or I'd have beaten the shrimp stealing bastard into cocktail sauce
and right now be in dream jail
Even if they don't fit we attempt to survive
Trip over melody, slip into grave of jealousy, professional error
An old girlfriend used to say my heart was in the right place but I'm clumsy
The pizza stuck to top of the box.
Those are his shrimp, the pizza belongs to the boy
Boy belongs to me
I take off my clothes, close my eyes, imagine
Take my shoes, socks off, walk barefoot on summer lawn
Parked on hill, windows rolled down, warm car, ocean
A good place to start, one place as another
What belongs to him doesn't belong to him
 but to everyone that owns him
Nothing matters much where it starts as much as where it ends
She wants lunch
All's coming about eventually inevitably, only
I must take care of my eyes
The moment strains to be gotten as shouting and tears
strain to be gotten
Stay in bounds, it's taming
A gray hair
What kind of rose would you like?
100 white roses, that will be enough
Every morning
This mark and that mark marking and cutting
Cutting and containing to make the thing what it wants
Child paralyzed by precaution
She must find herself
Where he begins
In celebration caution is tossed to the wind
Even in the face of flowering
Wilting, not opening, closing in, more than fulfillment
Completion
They're twins again in twin worlds, the children
The brothers want to and they want not to
They could and would grow together
Birthday cake, sacrament in commemoration of divorce
Divorce coming
Breaking up all he believed and gambled upon
All she counted on
Oh, my eyes!
Oh, my damn knees!
On and trusted in, contractual, mediated
Strings to soul that once embodied unity
Today is for love
Shall we make this?
Tatters of sofas, children, intellectual properties
Souvenirs salvaged from great honeymoon voyage
Vocabulary would devour memory passed on
Only as record, foundation for feelings, justification for
Terrors of the playground
In the car by the playground, the forgetfulness
Here's where he goes again, she goes and the movement of memory
History as they knew it never took into account a future
which is presently unwrapping itself
A parcel without warrantee or privilege or return
Only digression and bitterness loom
What are the particulars?
In frailty, grace in frailty, but that's not history yet
They are becoming more by surprise
She thinks she knows where, he doesn't know where
They want to know where, go somewhere
Splash of invisible night
Declarations of mornings hidden in erasable fog
Born to it bending and back through it
Here for him and her because they are part of song
That's what they are about, the story itself
Both without censure or penalty coming to it, being
had by whatever it is they've become
Don't forget the white roses
Creating luck and letting in pierce arrow
Presence to make things what they are without doubt
Here finally, in disturbance of robes, parameters in folding
Oh my aching knees!
Oh my broken roses mend at your feet
Socks and underwear, broken at toe, elastic gone
White edge of blue jeans, price tag still sewn to back pocket
Curtains drawn over beach, sheets drawn over day
Sleep that's awake and never sleeps, the shrimp!
It's not time to eat but they're getting hungrier
Not him, not her, but the others that have become roses
Wardrobe they're wearing to come to a settlement
Pull up chairs, pride, cares, hide properties, disguise priorities
Sign the damn thing to move on, they want to move on
Things they love they share
Knees, bouquet of white roses, and song
Roses against a plane
Leaning in the gravity of the situation
He would not give up while his knees still served him 
 better than his wife
He wanted a wife, she wanted a husband
The 100 white roses held the moment
Persuasion of perfume
These thoughts!
Please take them
100 white roses


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