What can you say about silence? Not much without breaking the promise you made
to keep your mouth shut and never, never let slip those intimacies shared without words,
the hands-off caresses, the meaningful glances exchanged in the dark, such blind insights.
No one would believe you anyway, no matter how hard you tried to explain that silence
is a dictionary with blank pages, thicker than the OED—but obviously useless,
even though we all crack it open sooner or later looking for the right word to say;
or how it unfolds in your mind like a map with nothing on it, all terra incognito,
illuminated in the corners with smokeless, snuffed out dragons and lions
that have their jaws wired, wide-eyed with panic, choking on their own roars.
—Don Thompson, Buttonwillow, CA
the silverfish, who care little for grammar, slipped by
to eat your poems, miniscule mouths avid for paper—
the way some people go after each other
(tomorrow, remind me I must buy
rat poison again where the boy with the bad acne looks
as if I planned murder or maybe, he'd ravish my shoulder)
then see how they gather on the corners, congregations
under a streetlight, to discuss our ruin, moths
circling people as if everyone's soul were wool, loose
woven. Some balance is wanted, but there are
more things with claws and teeth putting pointed
tracks into our thin dust than soft, here in the civil night.
—Ruth Moon Kempher, St. Augustine, FL
The yellow of the dandelion
can't be used as metaphor;
it is like a spider in a sink.
—Ray Skjelbred, Lake Forest Park, WA
Lichen. On pine, oak, apple,
sugar maple. The bearded iris
so impertinent that it sings
in slow time. Wild limbs
and cricket's breath as accomplice.
I always disobey God.
First he was the cross above my crib.
I crawled away. Then the flashing
neon of the Holy Ghost
over my soul, saving me with water.
Then I married a Jew—Christ-killer
and Pharisee to bring home.
Now I live in mundus imaginalis,
not some small-minded dusk or eternal
fog. Creation is more like this:
kelp, slippery. A skeleton bleached
beside the shin of the sea. I believe
in grace—enter here, enter here.
—Sandy Weisman, South Thomaston, ME
You would have known more about butterflies
if you had killed them more and watched them less.
If you had used a killing jar and a scalpel and collected
the various, variegated genitalia
of Nymphs and Satyrs, Blues and Coppers.
You could have been.
But no, you only planted flowers for them to suck
and sheltered the weeds where they laid their eggs
and applauded when you saw them jump into the air
and wink their way along their next performance.
Applauded! (Who the hell were you applauding?)
No eternity for those bugs or you,
Just a messy, scaly, insect stew.
No dry forever on a pin,
Just vanished scale on a dusty wing.
So you don't know much about butterflies,
You even forget their names from time to time.
You can't tell a Painted Lady from an American,
Vanessa cardui from Vanessa whaz-er-name.
All you have left is that stupid, sharp indrawn breath
as you see the Mourning Cloak
(arrogant first-bastard of spring)
spread her wings and pump the April into them
to mark the end of March.
You would have known more about so many things
if you hadn't whooped and danced and shook your fists
as the chrysalis broke and gold wet wings appeared.
—Lynn Hoffman, Philadelphia, PA
Hurt though its leaves
smothering the cry, each branch
disguised, flies out as birds
still battered by wings –haze
festers in these wounds :the dark bark
tries to trap the sun
tighter, tighter and always the pain
escapes :the harrowing cut
roots hear first and each footstep
softer than rot
nearer and nearer till nothing snaps
and everything falls on its side
–the tree still breathing
fed at last :infected, my saw
swooping to bring
what might have been the sun
and the tree remembering this heat
binds the blade :each leaf
sharp and shaking.
—Simon Perchik, East Hampton, NY
on his doorstep as ever on that cardboard
strip he's been wearing out all summer
the thin-limbed wrinkle-skinned man
in his sleeveless flipflops porkpie hat
who raises his eternal hand and waves is
now casting his gaze the length of the block
from the pump on down to the vacant
lot and the warehouse where the boys are
gambling for slices and ices flipping
their baseball cards or they're playing
their suicide wall ball or they're winging
that spaldeen at the guard-dog sign up over
the garage or who knows and now calling
his daughter come out of the house girl come
out already water the flowers by the gate
—Matthew Dulany, Bethesda, MD