“A Living,” William Stafford
Even pain you can take, in waves:
call the interval happiness. You can
travel; whatever nags you, you can
change it. You can roll this burden away.
In the pinched bend of your street
you can look back, or ahead, or wait.
And there is easy talk, for throwing
back like Annie-Over, or a minuet,
a way to act human in these years the stars
look past. And somewhere around you begins
that lifted road lighted by sunset, offered
again and again, laced where the sky lives:
Someday your road.
“Lesson in the Sunday Comics,” Jonathan Travelstead
Because he believes we are helpless to fate,
a blindfolded six-year-old Calvin
pushes off the hilltop in his red wagon
as he asks his friend the old question:
Why are we powerless to rush toward oblivion?
Though Hobbes is a tiger
that believes in free will, he knows
also that humans are stupid to consequence
and so covers his eyes.
The friends, one named after a theologian,
the other a philosopher, hurtle pell-mell
down eight panels of hill,
between haphazard probabilities of trees,
past stones waiting to chock rubber wheels
and pitch them into a watercolor sky.
The Radio Flyer instead hits a tufted ramp of grass.
Our illusion of control is shown in the wagon’s flight,
how we ride backseat to our own lives,
thinking for a moment we can make choices
other than those allowed by who we are.
Hobbes’s furry bottom is where the artist wants it
and in the last panel, Calvin has once more
released the steering handle, one arm crossed
to his other elbow,
a finger thoughtfully to his black dot of mouth.
Hobbes peers over his paws clamped
to the wagon’s rim, electric and goggle-eyed
at the ground rushing to meet them.
“Capital Affairs,” Chris Vivion
I’m two years behind every goal
On that bar napkin you gave me last year.
But your out-of-office says you’re still hopeful.
An azure-shaded woman on the corner
Is discussing the takeover with the pale-skinned blond.
She’s leaning into traffic, looking down the street.
Her partner, shifty and anxious, is made from
Filigreed burlap and twine.
Let me paint you the picture: it’s All Saints Day in Iowa
on a totally predictable afternoon. You’ve had enough to drink.
You’re not sure about the man you decided to be.
He’s an unhappy and hapless copy of the
Last version we dreamed up. It’s always a brighter day
When the world resigns to give up on its resolutions.
Things are more quiet and particular in their demands.
The woman in blue found a gypsy cab home,
A red brick, pedestrian affair. I’m looking past it now,
Past the cold coal plants and water-treatment facilities.
Everything is the color of bored: that off-colored
Mix of nostalgia, gunmetal and anxious greed.
There’s a bridge we’re building and after that
Another bridge. In the distance there’s Iowa and the
Small procession honoring Saint Empty Gesture there.
We’re slowing down in the cash lane, quietly
Looking for change, when the closing credits start.
“A Day Like Any Other,” Lisel Mueller
Such insignificance: a glance
at your record on the doctor’s desk
or a letter not meant for you.
How could you have known? It’s not true
that your life passes before you
in rapid motion, but your watch
suddenly ticks like an amplified heart,
the hands freezing against a white
that is a judgment. Otherwise nothing.
The face in the mirror is still yours.
Two men pass on the sidewalk
and do not stare at your window.
Your room is silent, the plants
locked inside their mysterious lives
as always. The queen-of-the-night
refuses to bloom, does not accept
your definition. It makes no sense,
your scanning the street for a traffic snarl,
a new crack in the pavement,
a flag at half-mast — signs
of some disturbance in the world
because your friend, the morning sun,
has turned its dark side toward you.
“In One Place,” Robert Wallace
holds up two or three leaves
the first year,
and branches, summer
in it don’t remember
it wasn’t there.
“Then and Now,” Ellenster Jones
“I love you.” He told me then
and now he plunders the city looking
for people like me to capture and seize.
“I love you too.” I told him then,
and now I shake every time I hear
soldier’s boots slap against the cold, dark earth.
“I don’t care if you’re different.” He said then
and now he’s turning over every stone, every
book looking for secret passages where
people like me hide.
“That’s why I love you.” I said then
and now I call myself stupid for thinking
that he wouldn’t join the army of human
Then is when we said all the things that
came from our hearts. When we were free
to love each other,
Jewish and German.
Now he finds my family and me in our hiding
spot. He grabs my arm yelling at me to
“Shut up” and “keep quiet” while he drops me
on a hard cold wooded bench leading us to
heartless death in some concentration camp
where he can be, free of the memory of us, of
The concentration camps where people like me
go, never to return. Where they tell us not to
worry though we all know we’re going to die.
Where they separate my mom and me from my
father and brothers, shave my head clean, and
give me old dirty rages to clothe myself. Where
my name isn’t Ariella Begenan anymore, but
that I will never forget on my left arm.
The concentration camps where they put me
and my mother and other women in a room
and tell us to wait. Then they start to shot us
through the holes in the walls. As I get hit by a
bullet in my chest, I fall to the floor and start to
The only thing I think about after I say a prayer
in Hebrew is that how much I wished for it to
be then, not now.
“The Sacred,” Stephen Dunn
After the teacher asked if anyone had
a sacred place
and the students fidgeted and shrank
in their chairs, the most serious of them all
said it was his car,
being in it alone, his tape deck playing
things he’d chosen, and others knew the truth
had been spoken
and began speaking about their rooms,
their hiding places, but the car kept coming up,
the car in motion,
music filling it, and sometimes one other person
who understood the bright altar of the dashboard
and how far away
a car could take him from the need
to speak, or to answer, the key
in having a key
and putting it in, and going.
“My First Memory (of librarians),” Nikki Giovanni
This is my first memory:
A big room with heavy wooden tables that sat on a creaky
A line of green shades—bankers’ lights—down the center
Heavy oak chairs that were too low or maybe I was simply
For me to sit in and read
So my first book was always big
In the foyer up four steps a semi-circle desk presided
To the left side the card catalogue
On the right newspapers draped over what looked like
a quilt rack
Magazines face out from the wall
The welcoming smile of my librarian
The anticipation in my heart
All those books—another world—just waiting
At my fingertips.
“Words,” Amanda Martin
the thoughts begin to form,
the thoughts become letters,
the letters become sounds,
the sounds become words,
the words become sentences,
the sentences become Meaning,
whether kind or cruel you decide.
“Anne Frank House,” Tim Dlugos
There’s no way to prop up the bright bouquets
next to the statue of the little girl
and so they strew the pavement, roll away
in stiff spring breezes. Amsterdam unfurls
like banners advertising the immense
and undigestible bite of “van Gauche”
the tourists try to swallow, or the dense
sweet cannabis smoke trailing from the roach
of an attractive boy who, leaning out
his Westerkerk-view window, simply stares
at coltish German teenagers who shout
and tussle till they climb the secret stairs
to where she waited, where she tried to sleep.
Beside the Prinsengracht, I start to weep.