Worlds Unimagined
"Averno" by Louise Glück


You die when your spirit dies.
Otherwise, you live.
You may not do a good job of it, but you go on –
something you have no choice about.

When I tell this to my children
they pay no attention.
The old people, they think –
this is what they always do:
talk about things no one can see
to cover up all the brain cells they’re losing.
They wink at each other;
listen to the old one, talking about the spirit
because he can’t remember anymore the word for chair.

It is terrible to be alone.
I don’t mean to live alone –
to be alone, where no one hears you.

I remember the word for chair.
I want to say — I’m just not interested anymore.

I wake up thinking
you have to prepare.
Soon the spirit will give up –
all the chairs in the world won’t help you.

I know what they say when I’m out of the room.
Should I be seeing someone, should I be taking
one of the new drugs for depression.
I can hear them, in whispers, planning how to divide the cost.

And I want to scream out
you’re all of you living in a dream.

Bad enough, they think, to watch me fall apart.
Bad enough without this lecturing they get these days
as though I had any right to this new information.

Well, they have the same right.

They’re living in a dream, and I’m preparing
to be a ghost. I want to shout out

the mist has cleared –
It’s like some new life:
you have no stake in the outcome;
you know the outcome.

Think of it: sixty years sitting in chairs. And now the mortal spirit
seeking so openly, so fearlessly –

To raise the veil.
To see what you’re saying goodbye to.

Read More

"To JK Rowling, from Cho Chang" by Rachel Rostad.

(This poem has stirred up some controversy; you can find the poet’s response to the controversy here.)

One Day It’s | Wayne Dodd



One Day It’s | Wayne Dodd

and next thing you know

it’s Monday again. Some people never
sleep. At least that’s how they

remember it. “I was awake all night”
she says, he says. Either way,

it’s the same story: Life’s
a blur, even with improved glasses.

“What could I have been thinking?”
you wonder now, all those irreversibles

lining up outside your window like witnesses
at a hanging.

“What’s the matter with you people?”
you want to shout. “Get a life!”

But of course it’s your
life we’re thinking about here,

isn’t it? a life lived mostly
on the edges (notice the browning

and crackling there, the undeniable loss
of integrity.) Did someone

ask a question? Not really.
That’s just the sound

of wind in the trees,
always on its way

to somewhere else.


Hamilton Stone Review

"A Morris Dance" by Mary Jo Salter

Across the Common, on a lovely May
day in New England, I see and hear
the Middle Ages drawing near, 
bells tinkling, pennants bright and gay—
    a parade of Morris dancers. 

One plucks a lute. One twirls a cape. 
Up close, a lifted pinafore
exposes cellulite, and more. 
O why aren’t they in better shape, 
    the middle-aged Morris dancers? 

Already it’s not hard to guess
their treasurer—her; their president—him; 
the Wednesday night meetings at the gym. 
They ought to practice more, or less, 
    the middle-aged Morris dancers. 

Short-winded troubadours and pages, 
milkmaids with osteoporosis—
what really makes me so morose is
how they can’t admit their ages, 
    the middle-aged Morris dancers. 

Watching them gamboling and tripping
on Maypole ribbons like leashed dogs, 
then landing, thunderously, on clogs, 
I have to say I feel like skipping
    the middle-aged Morris dancers. 

Yet bunions and receding gums
have humbled me; I know my station
as a member of their generation. 
Maybe they’d let me play the drums, 
    the middle-aged Morris dancers.


You can listen to the poet read the poem in her own voice here.

Goodtime Jesus - James Tate

Jesus got up one day a little later than usual. He had been dreaming so deep there was nothing left in his head. What was it? A nightmare, dead bodies walking all around him, eyes rolled back, skin falling off. But he wasn’t afraid of that. It was a beautiful day. How ‘bout some coffee? Don’t mind if I do. Take a little ride on my donkey, I love that donkey. Hell, I love everybody.

Small Town by Philip Booth


You know.
The light on upstairs
before four every morning. The man
asleep every night before eight.
What programs they watch. Who
traded cars, what keeps the town
The town knows. You
know. You’ve known for years over
drugstore coffee. Who hurts, who
Why, today, in the house
two down from the church, people
you know cannot stop weeping.



The new grass rising in the hills,
the cows loitering in the morning chill,
a dozen or more old browns hidden
in the shadows of the cottonwoods
beside the streambed. I go higher
to where the road gives up and there’s
only a faint path strewn with lupine
between the mountain oaks. I don’t
ask myself what I’m looking for.
I didn’t come for answers
to a place like this, I came to walk
on the earth, still cold, still silent.
Still ungiving, I’ve said to myself,
although it greets me with last year’s
dead thistles and this year’s
hard spines, early blooming
wild onions, the curling remains
of spider’s cloth. What did I bring
to the dance? In my back pocket
a crushed letter from a woman
I’ve never met bearing bad news
I can do nothing about. So I wander
these woods half sightless while
a west wind picks up in the trees
clustered above. The pines make
a music like no other, rising and
falling like a distant surf at night
that calms the darkness before
first light. “Soughing” we call it, from
Old English, no less. How weightless
words are when nothing will do.

By Philip Levine.

An Essay about Cameron Frye


for example I once stayed with
you all afternoon I remember
you wore that red dress
& yes I’ve been faithful
do you or do you not miss me
now that I’m an honest man
but for the record I don’t recall
ever seeing your house & I don’t
remember getting out of bed
that day I had a fever had religion
1001 hornets up & down
my spine but I could be
making this shit up or I could
be dying I could tell you it’s
ridiculous being afraid
worrying about everything
wishing I was dead all that shit
but I want it to be real though
want to be the suburb
you grew up in
you can be Lake Michigan
I’ll hold my breath
inside of you
but what I’d really like is
to see you wearing nothing
but my hockey sweater
you are so Mia Sara to me
I don’t know what
I want to do with my life
I think I want to let it all out
be hailstorm kick out the siding
glass door at your house so I can
see inside your night your dear diary &
ride the train home hot for you
dreaming about you now
in the bathtub &
how bootleg you is.


Nate Slawson


I could have kissed you
under cherry blossoms,
pale petals drifting down
like the trees wanted to
pretend they could be

I could have kissed you
in the rain, drenched to
our bones and not even
caring that the skies
opened up above us
and tried to wash us out.

I could have kissed you
in a clearing in the most
secluded woods, with
just the sound of wind
rustling through the leaves
and a few voyeuristic
finches peeping at us.

Instead, I kissed you
in the parking lot of a
Waffle House, just shy
of 2 a.m. in the middle
of a hectic week, with
our waitress grinning
at us from the other
side of the window,
because, honestly,
how could I not?

This poem © Gabriel Gadfly. Published May 11th, 2011.

Philip Larkin - Church Going


Once I am sure there's nothing going on
I step inside, letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence.

Move forward, run my hand around the font.
From where I stand, the roof looks almost new -
Cleaned, or restored? Someone would know: I don't.
Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few
Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce
'Here endeth' much more loudly than I'd meant.
The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,
Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.

Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,
And always end much at a loss like this,
Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,
When churches will fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep
A few cathedrals chronically on show,
Their parchment, plate and pyx in locked cases,
And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?

Or, after dark, will dubious women come
To make their children touch a particular stone;
Pick simples for a cancer; or on some
Advised night see walking a dead one?
Power of some sort will go on
In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;
But superstition, like belief, must die,
And what remains when disbelief has gone?
Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,

A shape less recognisable each week,
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last, the very last, to seek
This place for what it was; one of the crew
That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,
Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff
Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
Or will he be my representative,

Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation - marriage, and birth,
And death, and thoughts of these - for which was built
This special shell? For, though I've no idea
What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,
It pleases me to stand in silence here;

A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognized, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.

An Elegy, an Accident, and a House in the Desert to Be Used as a Map by Dylan Bassett



Dear fellow secret grave-goer,

I forget to lock the front door. It’s been eleven weeks since they called and said she won’t be home. And said they found her body in the road. Do you get angry? Do you turn chairs upside down? Do you undo doors from their hinges to make rooms look bigger? Resisting yourself is no good. Wanting to understand is a bad habit.


I was in the wicker chair smoking,
the phone went off and the past
tense began. First, I thought:
At least she won’t have to drink.
Then: the moon is too big to believe.
The smoke from my cigarette was
a stream of infinite zeros.


Dear fellow secret grave-goer,

What matters is having something to do. Yesterday, I walked on the pier watching the waves chase each other away. I cupped my hands over my ear to hear the rush of my blood.


Disaster : a lost star.
Chaos : the place of no more thought.
History of love : a lemon tree.

5. Opening Lines from my Unfinished Letters:

I remember nothing
I remember Beethoven and lemon muffins in the evening
I was thinking of a ruined garden
You know I’m not the romantic one
When the wind pours into us it makes a shadow
You had been reading Baudelaire in the bathtub
Baudelaire lies because sex with a shadow is no fun
I was counting empty churches in the valley
I found a moth caught in the cat’s jaw, its wings wilted like a flower in October
All it takes is the sight of an old glove
I saved your socks in the top drawer
I threw your lipstick away and finally felt something
Somedays I go looking for the car keys you lost in Carpinteria
If you can hear me
Are doors in Heaven open
Is God close enough yet
Today, I have a story
Today, nothing
Today, I remembered your purple summer dress
Today, I remembered your hands
Your hands were like campfires to my frozen moon


Dear fellow secret grave-goer,

How much is too much? I Googled what to do and what came up was what to do when you’re bored. Is that how you feel? Bored?


Dear fellow secret grave-goer,

Through a window I watched a small child rub dirt into her cuts. A dove wash its wings in mud. A stray dog survived on a pool of rain water.

8. Symbolism from my Bedroom Window:

The desert with its salt represents a body.
Wind chimes are the beloved and the beloved’s sense of time.
A lawn chair is certain confusion.
The shed behind the house is
memory. A shovel leaning against the shed is fate.
The trash in the driveway is just trash, but the cat
digging its way out is a human heart. Rocks
in the yard are meant to distract.
Stars are boxes collecting dust.
The birds require no explanation.
They fly away, leaving empty spaces to be filled.

Suzanne | William Carlos Williams



Suzanne | William Carlos Williams

Brother Paul! look!
—but he rushes to a different
The moon!

I heard shrieks and thought:
What’s that?

That’s just Suzanne
talking to the moon!
Pounding on the window
with both fists:

          Paul!      Paul!

—and talking to the moon.
and pounding the glass
with both fists!

Brother Paul! the moon!


William Matthews, “Grief”


E detto l’ho perché doler ti debbia!
— Inferno, xxiv.151

Snow coming in parallel to the street,
a cab spinning its tires (a rising whine
like a domestic argument, and then
the words get said that never get forgot),

slush and backed-up runoff waters at each
corner, clogged buses smelling of wet wool…
The acrid anger of the homeless swells
like wet rice. This slop is where I live, bitch,

a sogged panhandler shrieks to whom it may
concern. None who can hear him stall or turn,
there’s someone’s misery in all we earn.
But like a burr in a dog’s coat his rage

has borrowed legs. We bring it home. It lives
like kin among the angers of the house,
and has the same sad zinc taste in the mouth:
And I have told you this to make you grieve.

From Search Party: Collected Poems of William Matthews (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004), p. 221.

Childhood Ideogram by Larry Levis


I lay my head sideways on the desk, 
My fingers interlocked under my cheekbones, 
My eyes closed. It was a three-room schoolhouse, 
White, with a small bell tower, an oak tree. 
From where I sat, on still days, I’d watch 
The oak, the prisoner of that sky, or read 
The desk carved with adults’ names: Marietta 
Martin, Truman Finnell, Marjorie Elm; 
The wood hacked or lovingly hollowed, the flies 
Settling on the obsolete & built-in inkwells. 
I remember, tonight, only details, how 
Mrs. Avery, now gone, was standing then 
In her beige dress, its quiet, gazelle print 
Still dark with lines of perspiration from 
The day before; how Gracie Chin had just 
Shown me how to draw, with chalk, a Chinese 
Ideogram. Where did she go, white thigh 
With one still freckle, lost in silk? 
No one would say for sure, so that I’d know, 
So that all shapes, for days after, seemed 
Brushstrokes in Chinese: countries on maps 
That shifted, changed colors, or disappeared: 
Lithuania, Prussia, Bessarabia; 
The numbers four & seven; the question mark. 
That year, I ate almost nothing. 
I thought my parents weren’t my real parents, 
I thought there’d been some terrible mistake. 
At recess I would sit alone, seeing 
In the print of each leaf shadow, an ideogram— 
Still, indecipherable, beneath the green sound 
The bell still made, even after it had faded, 
When the dust-covered leaves of the oak tree 
Quivered, slightly, if I looked up in time. 
And my father, so distant in those days, 
Where did he go, that autumn, when he chose 
The chaste, faint ideogram of ash, & I had 
To leave him there, white bones in a puzzle 
By a plum tree, the sun rising over 
The Sierras? It is not Chinese, but English— 
When the past tense, when you first learn to use it 
As a child, throws all the verbs in the language 
Into the long, flat shade of houses you 
Ride past, & into town. Your father’s driving. 
On winter evenings, the lights would come on earlier. 
People would be shopping for Christmas. Each hand, 
With the one whorl of its fingerprints, with twenty 
Delicate bones inside it, reaching up 
To touch some bolt of cloth, or choose a gift, 
A little different from any other hand. 
You know how the past tense turns a sentence dark, 
But leaves names, lovers, places showing through: 
Gracie Chin, my father, Lithuania; 
A beige dress where dark gazelles hold still? 
Outside, it’s snowing, cold, & a New Year. 
The trees & streets are turning white. 
I always thought he would come back like this. 
I always thought he wouldn’t dare be seen. 

A mermaid found a swimming lad,
Picked him for her own,
Pressed her body to his body,
Laughed; and plunging down
Forgot in cruel happiness
That even lovers drown.
William Butler Yeats, “The Mermaid” (via larmoyante)