Free Verse 2015: A New York Miscellany


For poets, spring is a time of — complexity. Even when it’s perfectly wonderful for everyone else, for the poet it can be a time to discover, like Henry Howard, that sorrow is often worse if you’re surrounded by amorously disposed turtledoves and busy honeybees. Sometimes the sweet rain and breeze make everything so fine in Poetryland that little birds become too happy to sleep. But even Chaucer’s spring is uncomplicated only in prologue, and you soon get monstrous jealousy, hypocrisy, and flatulence. In Dickinson’s Amherst, spring light “waits upon the Lawn” in an eerily noncommittal attitude, and “almost” — almost! — “speaks to you.” Claude McKay immortalizes the spring day spent “Wasting the golden hours indoors,/Washing windows and scrubbing floors.” Shakespeare’s song of daisies and violets cheerfully relates spring to the increased threat of adultery. Whitman’s lilacs smell of murder. And it’s hard not to feel uneasy about Denise Levertov’s rabbits, who “bare their teeth at/the spring moon.”

A parallel complexity of feeling has developed, over the past century, about poetry itself, which some people argue is dead and others argue is not dead. Whatever your opinion (more nuanced, I hope, than these), you might sense this anxiety in the public sphere, blooming modestly with the daffadowndillies, each April. This is because, in addition to being Occupational Therapy Month, Confederate History Month, Financial Literacy Month, and eight other types of month, April is National Poetry Month. Some poets are suspicious, whether they think poetry is unquestionably dead or unquestionably alive. Good things have come from National Months. Still, when your group gets one, it can be sort of like spring itself, hopeful and inspiring, but suggestive of a brief official hiatus from cold and drought.

Among the good things to come from National Poetry Month is this, the second poetry issue of the Village Voice, which, being the second, is also the second annual poetry issue. The Voice has a circulation many times that of the typical literary journal. This is good for readers and poets. I was thrilled when the Voice‘s editor, Tom Finkel (the son of poets Donald Finkel and Constance Urdang), asked me to assemble poems for the issue. The poets whose work you’ll read here, all of whom live in New York City, are some of the most remarkable and compelling poets now writing anywhere. You can also hear them read their poems by calling the Voice‘s handy Dial-A-Poem line, at 646-918-1616. When you can dial 1 to hear John Foy, or 2 to hear V. Penelope Pelizzon, how bad can April really be? It’s spring. It’s National Poetry Month, for Christ’s sake. Read a poem. Dial a poem. Lhude sing, cuccu!

Joshua Mehigan Guest Editor

This poetry issue is in memory of Philip Levine (1928–2015), Pulitzer Prize–winning poet, former U.S. Poet Laureate, and a contributor to the first Village Voice poetry issue.

Free Verse 2015 contributors will read their poems on Monday, May 11, at KGB Bar (85 East 4th Street; 212-505-3360). Festivities commence at 7 p.m. Admission is free. Please buy libations, though — and tip liberally.

* * *

Single Gay Uncle By Jason Koo

     Single Gay Uncle, he thinks, looking at the drink      

     in his hand. That’s what I’ll call this.      

     — Alexander Chee

In an Old Soul glass, add one part what you think

You should like and one part what you do like,

One part the person you hope you are, one part

The person you are. Muddle. Add a dash of bitters.

And another. And another. Add that night you sat

Next to the one other Asian at another all white

Williamsburg bar and she could barely look at you,

Trying to shake you off like some butthead brother

As she split sweet potato fries and talked parallel

Parking with the cute white lesbian next to her.

Add the tattoo of a target on the slope of her chest

That said HAPPY in the bull’s-eye. Add the Korean

Characters on her inner wrist that you could say

But not understand, until she deigned to explain

They meant day by day, she lived her life day by day,

You see, as if the philosophy were better in Korean, add

Gimchi and galbi and gochujang and you could make

A cooking poem out of this and dedicate it to your mother.

Add the afternoon in the backseat of mom’s minivan

On the way home from tennis when she asked you,

Point blank, if you were gay, because you’d never had

A girlfriend and seemed sad and lonely all the time.

Maybe the lack of a girlfriend was a reason, maybe

The all-boys school where you got taunted as bowlegged

Didn’t help, maybe the fact you spent your weekends

Studying for the SAT made things worse, but sure,

Diagnose the problem as gayness, she might as well

Prepare you for an America where everyone assumed

You were gay or effectively so, brushing your cock aside,

Especially if you were neat, slim, well-dressed and

Wrote poetry. Add the night you kissed a blond

Former Miss Austin (supposedly) in the bathroom

At your friend’s 40th birthday party shortly after

She invited you into said bathroom to (it turns out)

Watch her pee, you thought she wanted to make out

But then you watched her pee, acting casual, then

You did make out and this had to be a coup in the history

Of the subjugation of Asian American men’s sexuality.

But after you emerged triumphant from the bathroom

And chatted with your friends in the kitchen and one

Took a picture of you and Miss Austin, she grabbed

The phone and flushed it where her pee had gone

Because she thought it had naked pictures of her on it,

Apparently this was an ongoing problem for Austin

In the state of Texas, and so you couldn’t celebrate

The coup because you had to make peace, conferencing

With her in the master bedroom where, rather than

Some loony makeup sex starting, she said she thought

You were gay, she only trusted you in the bathroom

Because you were gay, i.e. Asian, oh you knew she was not

What you should like but what you did, all the men

At the party did even as they made fun of her for being

Insane and you by association, now the story was

How you’d gotten your friend’s phone flushed down

The toilet for whatever you did to make this girl go

Batshit cray in the bathroom. Add the party years later

In Houston where your friends laughed over the story,

Their laughter laced with resentment, as if they’d

Never forgiven you for having gotten so lucky, at least

You got to taste what you did like a single gay time.

Add enough bitters? The rocks should be there

Already. Stir until chilled, until the glass says uncle,

Until you don’t know how you feel about you anymore.

Jason Koo is the author of two collections of poetry, America’s Favorite Poem (C&R Press, 2014) and Man on Extremely Small Island (C&R Press, 2009), and winner of the De Novo Poetry Prize and the Asian American Writers’ Workshop Members’ Choice Award for the best Asian American book of 2009. He won fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Vermont Studio Center, and New York State Writers Institute. An assistant professor of English at Quinnipiac University, Koo is founder and executive director of Brooklyn Poets, a nonprofit organization that celebrates and cultivates the poets, poetry, and literary heritage of Brooklyn, where he lives.

* * *

September By Geoffrey O’Brien

“I’m losing it”

you reach for what must have been

at hand a moment ago

a song or TV show

the thing you were going to smoke

“I’m losing it”

the string or button

that held it together

the photographs saved from disappearance

by the one who is disappearing

Among Geoffrey O’Brien‘s seventeen books are seven collections of poetry, including the recently published In a Mist (Shearsman). He lives in Brooklyn Heights.

* * *

Match-seller, 1927 By Adam Kirsch after a photograph by August Sander

Because a man with nothing left to sell

Is an abstraction that cannot exist

As long as there’s a purchaser who will

Pay him to be a slave or orifice,

The destitute must play at the charade

Of taking part in the economy

With two-cent matches that he has displayed

In an attempt to claim the dignity

Of the small businessman who would recoil?

To pass him on the street and realize

How easily the petty-bourgeois fall

Into the class they’re brought up to despise —

The honest poor whose honesty consists

Of reassuring the uneasy rich

They won’t get angry or vote Communist

As long as someone comes to buy a match.

Adam Kirsch‘s third book of poems, Emblems of the Passing World: Poems after Photographs of August Sander, will be published this fall by Other Press.

* * *

The Soote Season By V. Penelope Pelizzon

Again these mornings where child adductions

appear most visibly in parks, light newly

minting the new leaves. Small white babies

crooked freshly diapered in the arms

Jamaican ladies offer, babies small and white

milked back to sleep on the bosoms of Russia,

bosoms that farther back in the darkness

Q-lined in from Brighton Beach, having pressed

their own babies into the arms a sister

or mother yawned wide on the couch. A green

mantilla of shadow feminizes the park.

Laconic, the dog and I walk, aristocrats

among those who know the names of pets

but meet with shyness another human’s look.

Mostly our glances stay low. We socialize

instead with strokes along a proffered jaw,

with compliments for grooming and behavior.

Wordlessly, our awkward treat is taken.

Here, with the utmost pleasure, I’ve cupped

the tapered chamfer of a greyhound’s skull

like a chalice in my palms, and bent to smell

her fur’s bouquet, the same flinted floral breath

mown grass exhales in summer. Though I am

a gaze hound that hunteth by the eye, her master

raises his look limply only as far as my chin

before he drops it like a gnawed ball

to roll across the greensward of his screen.

Incarnate time runs past us toward school.

Yoga-goers hoist over their shoulders mats

rolled cigar-wise in eco-cotton wrappers.

Downward dog. The Ommm of a long exhale

held over the park. Across the green, summer

comes bounding, promising its kale-flavored

e-cigarettes, deluscious apricot slashes

of sunset over Red Hook, bottled water

sourced at far-off fonts with lovely names,

and to cool the unctuous burn of poison

ivy waded through upstate, a Q-tip

dipped in refrigerated calamine

then dabbed between the toes, though I do this

now for myself, this remembered suburban

gentleness once my mother’s province.

What hunger led the first hominid to feed

scarce meat to a pup and thereby nurture

trust attuned to our every gesture

more fully than we can trust our species?

Before he’d rent to me, my landlord insisted

we Skype to ascertain, I gathered after

pleasantries about the block’s amenities,

sycamores, and extreme safety, although

nothing was said, that I was a person

not only sinecured and stable, but unsable.

The apartment is sunny and affordable.

I signed the lease. The dog does his business,

which I scoop in a baggie made for the job.

Around us, nannies gloze their querulous

charges with sugar, such sweetness, a fine glucose

pollen sifting over the beautiful trees.

Nana, three twins! a niblet in pigtails crows

pointing at a carriage with all-terrain wheels

adapted from a NASA rover, awed

as I am by how fecund imagination

grows when given a market, imagination

fluent, almost, as money. One walking

her antique poodle freshly pollarded

can’t not notice the nursemaids’ apartheid

— Jamaicans on the swings, Eastern Bloc

having commandeered the sandbox —

each stand-in mother’s tongue staking out

its turf on the recycled tire surface.

V. Penelope Pelizzon‘s second poetry collection, Whose Flesh Is Flame, Whose Bone Is Time, was published in 2014 (Waywiser). Her first book, Nostos, won the Hollis Summers Prize and the Poetry Society of America’s Norma Farber First Book Award. She is co-author of Tabloid, Inc.: Crimes, Newspapers, Narratives, a study of the relations among American sensationalist journalism, photography, and film from 1927 to 1958. Her awards include a 2012 Amy Lowell Traveling Scholarship and a Discovery/The Nation Award.

* * *

The First Person Who Will Live to Be One Hundred and Fifty Years Old Has Already Been Born By Nicole Sealey    

for Petra

Scientists say the average human

life gets three months longer every year.

By this math, death will be optional. Like a tie

or dessert or suffering. My mother asks

whether I’d want to live forever.

“I’d get bored,” I tell her. “But,” she says,

“there’s so much to do,” meaning

she believes there’s much she hasn’t done.

Thirty years ago she was the age I am now

but, unlike me, too industrious to think about

birds disappeared by rain. If only we had more

time or enough money to be kept on ice

until such a time science could bring us back.

Of late my mother has begun to think life

short-lived. I’m too young to convince her

otherwise. The one and only occasion

I was in the same room as the Mona Lisa,

it was encased in glass behind what I imagine

were velvet ropes. There’s far less between

ourselves and oblivion — skin that often defeats

its very purpose. Or maybe its purpose

isn’t protection at all, but rather to provide

a place, similar to a doctor’s waiting room,

in which to sit until our names are called.

Hold your questions until the end.

Mother, measure my wide-open arms —

we still have this much time to kill.

Born in St. Thomas and raised in Apopka, Florida, Nicole Sealey is a Cave Canem graduate fellow as well as the recipient of an Elizabeth George Foundation Grant. She is the author of The Animal After Whom Other Animals Are Named, winner of the 2015 Drinking Gourd Chapbook Poetry Prize (forthcoming from Northwestern University Press). Her other honors include a Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize from the American Poetry Review, a Daniel Varoujan Award, and the Poetry International Prize. She is the programs director at Cave Canem Foundation.

* * *

May Light By Rachel Hadas

The pale green leaves are a correction

of stubborn double vision.

Hope and fear, twins intertwined,

pause in their tussling, sniff the wind,

which, grey and cool and damp and warm,

strokes the face and softens stone.

Spring’s less a season than a quiver

of luminous ripples from the river,

purging winter’s musty night,

opening windows to let in light.

Rachel Hadas is the author of more than a dozen books of poetry, essays, and translations. Forthcoming are a prose collection, Talking to the Dead (Spuyten Duyvil, 2015), and poems, Questions in the Vestibule (Northwestern University Press, 2016). She is Board of Governors Professor of English at Rutgers.

* * *

Grinder By John Foy

Not good, your playing hockey with my heart.

How fast you worked it on around in front

and fed it forward to the point, this part

of me you slapped away, without a thought

that what went skittering across the ice

was not a puck, although it looked like one,

so black and vulcanized. But no. A piece

of me it was you dumped into the zone.

You laid it back along the wall out wide,

controlling it the way you wanted to,

then skated in and checked me from behind

and took a ricochet and tipped it through,

a garbage goal, that’s all you ever scored,

and me, a grinder bleeding by the boards.

John Foy is the author of Techne’s Clearinghouse (Zoo Press/University of Nebraska Press). He lives in New York and helps to curate an uptown reading series in Manhattan. You can visit him at

* * *

Crossroads By Quincy R. Lehr

Have you heard this? — Robert Johnson met

Hermes Trismegistus in disguise

(that devil costume he’d put on sometimes

to scare the hicks), who picked up his guitar

and tuned it Dorian — all flatted thirds

and sevenths. It was almost rock ‘n’ roll,

Soviet power without the Marshall stack,

a half-completed road that hasn’t reached

the highway yet, but dead-ends in a sump

of sludgy waste and chthonic bayou air.

It’ll end badly, this carnie cultic shit

never pays as well as you think it should,

and Mom and Dad won’t get it. “Do what thou wilt”

isn’t for libertines — it’s for the nerds,

throwing away their lives, allowances,

and weekend afternoons for gatefold sleeves

and comic-book fantasies — ridiculous

unless you understand; the knowledge comes

in screams, but through your headphones or paperback

fantasies you hide from girls like porn.

That’s how it rolls — you can squeeze your spunk

into a New Yorker, even still

conjuring no magick. All the wine

you drink at the reception won’t get you drunk

or drunk enough. Your time is better spent

on hair and staying up late. An open secret

remains a secret, a deal you have to make

and seal with a sacrifice as maenads dance,

as kids fire up a blunt, as Cadmus stares —

that blushing pervert thinks he can get away.

Quincy R. Lehr‘s books include the book-length poem Heimat (2014) and the forthcoming The Dark Lord of the Tiki Bar (2015). He is associate editor of the Raintown Review, and he lives in Brooklyn, where he teaches history.

* * *

An April Interlude in Central Park By George Green

I checked a birder site and made a list,

but there’s a million songsters overhead

here in the Ramble: swallows (tree and barn),

with wrens and warblers (yellow-rumped and pine),

plus vireos and robins. Who just chirped?

Don’t ask. Nor can I guess the name of all

these flowers at my feet (maybe they’re violets).

Shouldn’t a poet know this stuff? He should.

Dead actresses and battles long ago I know,

and old, unhappy, far-off things.

But, hey, the artificial waterfall is gone.

They shut it off! I used to love

to linger here and listen to its light

cascade, the thinnest veil, a trickle, really.

On my way out I have to bow before

the statue of Tom Moore (a portrait bust).

He was a minor poet, to be sure,

but you can sing his poems, and he could sing himself.

His fulgent voice would rapt away

the yearning hearts enveloped in its splendor.

He kissed a lovely girl, a teenage fan, on board

a ferry boat. He kissed, she told, and when

they docked the ladies all declined to disembark.

Declined and then refused,

until Tom Moore had kissed them, each and all.

George Green‘s book of poems, Lord Byron’s Foot, won the New Criterion Prize and the Poets’ Prize. His poems have been featured in seven anthologies, including The Best American Poetry. He has lived for 34 years in the East Village and teaches at Lehman College. In 2014 he received an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

* * *

The World Doesn’t End But Far From Here By Tina Chang

When tokens for the trains were no longer made,

I kept them still, traced the letter Y in the face

of the coin like a language dying. I kept the coins

in desk drawers and pockets through my youth

and used them as long as the ancient machines

would take them. The last coin I purchased

was in the year 2003 when a lost empire dissolved,

dropped by my own swift hand. It is spring now.

Cherry blossoms wait to bloom, the smell

of grass, cement, and fumes. April clings to me

as the beginning of memory. In my faulty past

there were sweatshops, noodle factories, vendors

calling, a dollar, a dollar, for a cheap trinket,

lacking in quality but it gleamed at least

one night in my hands before it broke. Found

its end. Buildings swell at the perimeter

reciting their inheritance and new narrative:

All the mouths of flowers are open,

the train doors bloom at every stop,

a shower of life above and below.

We navigate home. Rise from underground.

Tina Chang, Brooklyn poet laureate, is the author of the poetry collections Half-Lit Houses (2004) and Of Gods & Strangers (2011). She is co-editor of the Norton anthology Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry From the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond.

* * *

The Tattooed Man Can Can-Can By Rigoberto González

A hydra spreads its many necks

across his back, cerberus barks

at the small diamond of his navel,

a python winds down his arm

until its head melds with his fist —

his fingers fan its set of fangs.

That’s my father at the circus

sideshow tent: dazzling the crowds

with his flesh menagerie of beasts —

a shark hunts on his left thigh,

a leopard pounces on his right

knee. He swears the scars

are from the scratches of its claws.

He says silly things like that

that only wide-eyed boys believe

as they gawk and giggle at this ox

of a man, mournful as a minotaur,

but just for show. At home, he uncages

ravens from his throat that rise

fiery as cardinals from his mouth.

The Medusa takes her wig off,

each tiny snake coils up like rope.

The wolf removes its scruffy frock

and sits cross-legged on a chaise

while its kill, the lamb, comes back

to life to drop two lumps into their tea.

The fringes on the lampshade shake

each time my father kicks his

heavy boots off — a veritable can-can.

Truth is: the tattooed man’s a pussycat.

Just ask his boyfriend, who can make

my father purr into the milk dish of a kiss.

When his boyfriend spends the night,

the bats over my father’s shoulder blades

unfurl their massive wings. The kids

at school wonder how I sleep with such creepy

things so near me. But what’s to fear?

Nothing weird watching shark and

leopard dance so gaily every evening.

Unpeopled Eden, Rigoberto González‘s most recent poetry collection, won the Lambda Literary Award and the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets. He is the recipient of the Shelley Memorial Award (Poetry Society of America) and the Poetry Center Book Award; Guggenheim, National Endowment for the Arts, and U.S.A. Rolón fellowships; and a New York Foundation for the Arts grant. A contributing editor for Poets & Writers magazine, he is a professor of English at Rutgers.

* * *

Quentin Crisp in Transport By John Marcus Powell

In London in the Fifties I’d loiter

and in the course of loitering, would wonder

“Is there anything marketable in me?”

And thus loitering, would come across a group

tormenting an individual.

The individual was Quentin Crisp.

In Chelsea (where Quentin lived), tourists and passers-by would question

“———That crowd? What’s happening?”—

“——a bloke wearing makeup. 75 per cent a woman!

Likes a bit of ‘how’s your father’ up his garden path.”

Thus was Quentin persecuted.

Famous for being persecuted, his wit came later. His wit came last.

In America at the beginning of the 21st century I’d saunter.

As I sauntered I would wonder

“If there’s nothing marketable in me

is there something I can give?”

And thus sauntering, wandered onto a slow bus down 5th Avenue.

Who should get on at the bus stop near the library?

Quentin! Now known in America as a writer —

self-sufficient as a character in Vermeer, flaunting

the apparatus that renders him a fugitive entertainer, a literary gem

90 years old, favored by gravity.

The bus jolts and equilibrium chooses him a seat.

As a terrestrial with extra

rouge, eye shadow, mascara, blue tint for the hair,

He shares himself without apology.

An exhibitionist never says “sorry” unless embroiled in criminology

——What in the name of face powder is there to “forgive”?

All the bus hates him.

Hate on public transport starts with a snarl in the genitals.

This snarl travels the spine to pizz-flizzle out the projectile eyes

in a vaporous fog wherein prejudice thrives.

As I exit I stop next to Quentin.

“Are you Quentin Crisp?”



“Thank you!”

“You are an inspiration” (then loudly) “to a lot of people!”

The snarl coagulates within the vertebrae as confusion reigns.

But there’s no danger of septicemia.

Soon up their spine hate snakes again,

the same old same old same old hate.

John Marcus Powell is a poet who is also an actor. He is Welsh and for the past 25 years has lived in New York. Before that he lived in London, Paris, Rome, and Oran. Harold Pinter, his favorite writer and a great influence, directed him in The Man in the Glass Booth, encouraged his writing, and helped him get his short stories published in Joe McCrindle’s Transatlantic Review. He flirts with any anarchic poet he meets and at the moment is romantically involved with Whitman, Rimbaud, and Borges.

* * *

Ode to a Serrated Knife By Jessica Greenbaum

Tipped on your back

you have

no powers

but your blade

looks like

the ocean

on a shiny day.


I see you

the words

spare me

come to mind

even though

we know

you are the only


with the

right touch

for the new


still warm. But

when you


a piece

from its calm


it cools quickly

and if we

don’t tend to it

with our


it will just

turn to ash

good for

the birds.

Your handle

is as stocky

and sure

as a Bavarian

woman’s legs

in high black

socks. I


your intent

in the narrow

stable of the

knife block

where you alone

wear a


Jessica Greenbaum‘s second book, The Two Yvonnes, was a Library Journal’s Best Book in Poetry. As a social worker, she facilitates poetry-reading and -writing groups for older adults and will initiate one for 9-11 first responders through the WTC Health Program. She is poetry editor of upstreet and received a National Endowment for the Arts literature grant for 2015.

* * *

A Chickadee in Riverside Park By Paul Muldoon

We were just drawing level with the Port Authority

as per our usual routine

when the storm broke.

A money manager manages a heist

by standing on the shoulders of a client

the way snow relies on an evergreen

to make itself look good.

The “cowling” is a kind of engine-hood.

My sense is that the fuselage of the old de Havilland

was stitched together from birch bark.

The term “de-iced”

may date only from the early 1930s

when passengers were still on a Grand Tour

and flight attendants wore haute couture

and smoked a Turkish blend

but a chickadee in Riverside Park

has been hanging in there since the time of Christ.

You saw how a high rise casting a shadow

at 3:15

over the newly mopped floor

of the mid-town map

encouraged us to be more energy compliant.

A chickadee doesn’t so much preen

as congratulate itself on having withstood

the charms of an armoire finished in the plywood

popularly known as “blonde”

abandoned on the sidewalk by a three-legged chair.

A stopgap

forsythia exclaims Cuidado!

as if we were about to happen on mastodon spoor

and a steaming pile of mastodon manure

at 107th and West End.

You have to admit it’s with a certain flair

the chickadee tips its skullcap

at the idea of Golgotha bleeding into Gotham.

As is clear from the fossil record of the Pliocene,

North America has twice

been settled by the tit

so the chickadee is super defiant,

venting its spleen

to the assembled mob. I knew you’d

remember only the true cross is known as the Rood.

Not only a little chickadee may vent

at the threat from these darkening skies

of another hit.

Blossom-snow from a sky-gash. Perhaps snow-blossom?

The one thing I know for sure

is how rarely our motives are pure.

Even Jesus wondered if he was a godsend.

You saw how the tower crane used to build the high rise

is now enshrined in it.

Paul Muldoon is the author of twelve collections of poetry, most recently One Thousand Things Worth Knowing (2015). He is Howard G.B. Clark University Professor at Princeton and poetry editor of the New Yorker.

* * *

Poems continue on the next page.

Crossing the Divide By Yusef Komunyakaa

At 3 a.m. the city is a caul

morning tries to hide behind

& from, the coyote nosing forth —

instinct or reflex — pacing-off days

ahead, & then eighteen-wheelers

zoom around a curve of night trees,

along the rim. The blast of a horn

hangs in the verdured air of spring.

She knows her kind will follow

scent left in the grass & buzz

of chainsaws, if they can unweave

streets around the next subdivision.

She stops at the broken-off edge

of things, & then quick as that

marshals Orion & slips the maze,

darting straight between a sedan & SUV.

Don’t try to hide from her kind of blues

or the dead nomads who walked trails

paved now by gravel & tar, somewhere

between worlds, almost tamed & wild.

She edges along the bike path, going

around the lights, then across steps

of the museum, to where rats scuttle

from a huddle of garbage cans. Yes,

destiny comes to a pigeon in a bush,

ducks on the pond, & to the leaf tips,

because she has not yet forgotten

how to kill her way back home.

If it were Monday instead of Sunday

the outcome might be different,

but she’s now in Central Park

searching for a Seneca village.

Yusef Komunyakaa is the author of seventeen books of poetry, among them Pleasure Dome, Dien Cai Dau, and Warhorses, and recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for his collection Neon Vernacular. Another collection, The Emperor of Water Clocks, will be published in the fall. His plays, performance art, and libretti have been performed internationally and include Saturnalia, Testimony, and Gilgamesh. He teaches at New York University.

* * *

Công Binh By Jenna Le

Boss knew I had a name, but never used it. Couldn’t pronounce it.

Didn’t care how many aunts I have, or on what beach our town sits.

He handed me a printed card to hold and took my mugshot.

The card read: Z A O 1 6. The ship’s hold smelled like dogshit,

and it was dark. The man beside me had sharp bony shoulders

and sniffed all night. The voyage lasted weeks. Marseille was colder

than I expected, and I shivered in the clothing given.

Boss gestured at some tents, said: “This is where you boys’ll be living.”

Barbed wire ran round the tents. Cars took us to and from the factory

each dawn and dusk. We toiled till we were sick. One man got bacteremia

and died in the infirmary. Another was blown to atoms

when powder he’d been told to mix caught fire: white smoke enwrapped him.

One day, the French boss disappeared; a German boss took over.

“You Indochinese dogs will answer to me now,” he blustered.

Things went on like this till the June of 1944.

We asked no questions, toiled on. It was war, but not our war.

Jenna Le is the author of Six Rivers (NYQ Books, 2011). Her poetry, fiction, criticism, and translations have appeared in many literary journals, including AGNI Online, Bellevue Literary Review, Massachusetts Review, and 32 Poems.

* * *

Portrait of a Child By D. Nurkse

First the newborn invented light,

then creepy twilight, dusty aspidistra,

relentless goldfish, wary eager dog,

exhausted parents. Then she rested.

She had not yet made I. She trembled

in the crook of my arm. If she woke

I commanded sleep. If she slept

I whispered wake. So she knew me.

Soon she starts on the faint stars.

When she has poked holes for Kochab

and Deneb, we’ll paste DayGlo Mars

on the acoustic tile above her crib.

She will have assembled the city,

emptiness inside an idling bicycle,

braid of roads, a deep-fissured elm.

For now she hiccups. Perhaps

she’s dreaming herself: tonight

the image is passing through her,

brushing her eyelid from inside.

D. Nurkse is the author of ten collections of poetry, most recently A Night in Brooklyn. He’s the recipient of a Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a Guggenheim fellowship.

* * *

winter’s end By Priscilla Becker

the figure in snow

had lips that    

     disintegrated, fingers

that branched apart

it had a downturned

mouth, rancid carrot

nose, hardened    

     eyes lacerated     

      with cold

the children longed

to keep him warm:

they sewed a blood


     the figure

pricked their fingers

and throats (they built him


they lodged a voice box

in his neck and iced

it shut    

     made a heart

of rope, eyelids of dried

mucus, cheeks    

     of underground        


built brick

shoes and socks

of autumn’s fungussed



hacks and hiccups

into trousers of illness,

protective sickness

they shot    

     a penny through

his destitute mouth

drop by drop released

death tincture    

       into his scalp

Priscilla Becker‘s first book of poems, Internal West, was the winner of the Paris Review book prize. Her second collection, Stories That Listen, was released from Four Way Books. She has completed her third book, Unaccompanied Voice, and a chapbook, Death Certificate, which will be released by Ugly Duckling Presse.

* * *

Spring Allegory By Monica Youn

dimple in the tawny

pour of snowmelt —

a long-submerged twig

or pebble,

tiny grapple

flung up to snag the new

skin of a frictionless

abundance: how

one thing is never allowed

to glide


over the bones of another —

under fresh layers of mud

and water,

the streambed

goes on polishing its dry teeth.

Monica Youn‘s third book of poems, Blackacre, is forthcoming from Graywolf Press in 2016. Ignatz, her second book, was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2010. A former lawyer, she now teaches poetry at Princeton University and in the graduate writing program at Warren Wilson College.

Looking for our 2014 poetry issue? Read it here.

Most Popular