you shall love your crooked neighbor

ars poetica #100: i believe | elizabeth alexander


poetry, i tell my students,
is idiosyncratic. poetry

is where we are ourselves,
(though sterling brown said

“every ‘i’ is a dramatic ‘i’”)
digging in the clam flats

for the shell that snaps,
emptying the proverbial pocketbook.

poetry is what you find
in the dirt in the corner,

overhear on the bus, god
in the details, the only way

to get from here to there.
poetry (and now my voice is rising)

is not all love, love, love,
and i’m sorry the dog died.

poetry (here i hear myself loudest)
is the human voice,

and are we not of interest to each other?

a sonnet of invented memories | miles walser

1. i told you that i was a roadway of potholes, not safe to cross. you said nothing, showed up in my driveway wearing roller-skates.

2. the first time i asked you on a date, after you hung up, i held the air between our phones against my ear and whispered, “you will fall in love with me. then, just months later, you will fall out. i will pretend the entire time that i don’t know it’s coming.”

3. once, i got naked and danced around your bedroom, awkward and safe. you did the same. we held each other without hesitation and flailed lovely. this was vulnerability foreplay.

4. the last eight times i told you i loved you, they sounded like apologies.

5. you recorded me a cd of you repeating, “you are beautiful.” i listened to it until i no longer thought in my own voice.

6. into the half-empty phone line, i whispered, “we will wake up believing the worst in each other. we will spit shrapnel at each other’s hearts. the bruises will lodge somewhere we don’t know how to look for and i will still pretend i don’t know its coming.”

7. you photographed my eyebrow shapes and turned them into flashcards: mood on one side, correct response on the other. you studied them until you knew when to stay silent.

8. i bought you an entire bakery so that we could eat nothing but breakfast for a week. breakfast, untainted by the day ahead, was when we still smiled at each other as if we meant it.

9. i whispered, “i will latch on like a deadbolt to a door and tell you it is only because i want to protect you. really, i’m afraid that without you i mean nothing.”

10. i gave you a bouquet of plane tickets so i could practice the feeling of watching you leave.

11. i picked you up from the airport limping. in your absence, i’d forgotten how to walk. when i collapsed at your feet, you refused to look at me until i learned to stand up without your help.

12. too scared to move, i stared while you set fire to your apartment – its walls decaying beyond repair, roaches invading the corpse of your bedroom. you tossed all the faulty appliances through the smoke out your window, screaming that you couldn’t handle choking on one more thing that wouldn’t just fix himself.

13. i whispered, “we will each weed through the last year and try to spot the moment we began breaking. we will repel sprint away from each other. your voice will take months to drain out from my ears. you will throw away your notebook of tally marks from each time you wondered if i was worth the work. the invisible bruises will finally surface and i will still pretend that i didn’t know it was coming.”

14. the entire time, i was only pretending that i knew it was coming.


and they were both right | kapka kassabova

grammatolatry | yesyes

what if love is no more than
a tangle of muscles
aching to be untied
by knowing fingers?
what if love is made and nothing else -
asked narcissus, leaning over the green iris of water.
nothing else,
cried echo from the green cochlea of the woods.
and they were both right.
and they were both lonely.

you are the place you cannot move | ralph angel

you wake up healthy
but you don’t feel right. now everything’s
backwards and you’re thinking of someone to blame.

and you do, you’re lucky,
drinking coffee was easy, the traffic’s
moving along, you’re like
everyone else just trying to get through the day
and the place you’re dreaming of seems possible—
somewhere to get to.

all you really know
is that it hurts here, the way feelings
are bigger than we are, and a woman’s face
in a third-story window, her limp hair
and the pots of red geraniums luring you
into her suffering until you’re walking on roads
inscribed in your own body. the maps
you never speak of. intersections, train stations,
roadside benches, the names of places and
people you’ve known all bearing the weight
of cashing a check or your having to eat something,
of glimpsing the newspaper’s ghoulish headlines.

like everyone else, you think,
the struggle is toward a better time, though
no pressure surrounds the house you were born in.
cool, quieter, a vast primitive light
where nothing happens but the sound
of your sole self breathing.
and you’ve decisions to make. isn’t that why
you’ve come? with a bald-headed man at the bar
and your friends all over the place, anxious,
tired, a little less sturdy than you’d hoped for
and needing someone to kick around, someone to love.


tattoo | carl dennis

if the body is the house of the soul,
what’s wrong with a little home decoration
more permanent than the drapes in the parlor
or the fabric on the dining-room chairs?

a forearm, say, adorned with a tropical flower
or with a palm tree under a deep blue sky,
suggesting the body is glad to recall
its stay in eden, whether or not the soul
regards that episode as relevant now.

or consider the young waitress
who served you lunch just an hour ago,
how her sleeveless blouse revealed
a small heart on her shoulder
inscribed with two names, dave and gretchen,
under a sprig of lilac.

no need to assume she’s failed to imagine a time
when a boyfriend more congenial
wakes up beside her only to be reminded
there was once a dave who was all she wanted.

could be she wants to send a reminder
to the gretchen she may become
not to forget the girl who believed
that holding on was a project worthy
of all the attention that she could muster,
as much a challenge as letting go.


rain | raymond carver

grammatolatry | larmoyante

woke up this morning with
a terrific urge to lie in bed all day
and read. fought against it for a minute.

then looked out the window at the rain.
and gave over. put myself entirely
in the keep of this rainy morning.

would i live my life over again?
make the same unforgiveable mistakes?
yes, given half a chance. yes.

summer solstice | stacie cassarino

i wanted to see where beauty comes from
without you in the world, hauling my heart
across sixty acres of northeast meadow,
my pockets filling with flowers.
then i remembered,
it’s you i miss in the brightness
and body of every living name:
rattlebox, yarrow, wild vetch.
you are the green wonder of june,
root and quasar, the thirst for salt.
when i finally understand that people fail
at love, what is left but cinquefoil, thistle,
the paper wings of the dragonfly
aeroplaning the soul with a sudden blue hilarity?
if i get the story right, desire is continuous,
equatorial. there is still so much
i want to know: what you believe
can never be removed from us,
what you dreamed on walnut street
in the unanswerable dark of your childhood,
learning pleasure on your own.
tell me our story: are we impetuous,
are we kind to each other, do we surrender
to what the mind cannot think past?
where is the evidence i will learn
to be good at loving?
the black dog orbits the horseshoe pond
for treefrogs in their plangent emergencies.
there are violet hills,
there is the covenant of duskbirds.
the moon comes over the mountain
like a big peach, and i want to tell you
what i couldn’t say the night we rushed
north, how i love the seriousness of your fingers
and the way you go into yourself,
calling my half-name like a secret.
i stand between taproot and treespire.
here is the compass rose
to help me live through this.
here are twelve ways of knowing
what blooms even in the blindness
of such longing. yellow oxeye,
viper’s bugloss with its set of pink arms
pleading do not forget me.
we hunger for eloquence.
we measure the isopleths.
i am visiting my life with reckless plenitude.
the air is fragrant with tiny strawberries.
fireflies turn on their electric wills:
an effulgence. let me come back
whole, let me remember how to touch you
before it is too late.


things that have been lost | yehuda amichai

from newspaper columns and notice boards
i find out about things that have been lost.
this way i know what people had
and what they love.

once my tired head fell
on my hairy chest and there i found my father’s smell
again, after many years.

my memories are like someone
who can’t go back to czechoslovakia
or who is afraid to return to chile.

sometimes i see again
the white vaulted room
with the telegram
on the table.


fiction | lisel mueller

going south, we watched spring
unroll like a proper novel:
forsythia, dogwood, rose;
bare trees, green lace, full shade.
by the time we arrived in georgia
the complications were deep.

when we drove back, we read
from back to front. maroon went wild,
went scarlet, burned once more
and then withdrew into pink,
tentative, still in bud.
i thought if only we could go on
and meet again, shy as strangers.


to the former self in art class | hannah faith notess

you didn’t know the boy sitting next to you
in watercolor 101 was going to shutter himself
in the car, stop breathing, break the heart
of his father and the whole college.
let’s be honest. his cones and cylinders
were as lopsided, as badly shaded
as everyone else’s cones and cylinders. 
when you hear the news two years later,
you search your own tatty portfolio
for clues, sigh if only i had known
but i want to shake you and say, you didn’t,
and anyway that phrase is a stupider knife
even than ockham’s razor. if you went,
with your grey lens of knowledge, back to that
minute, you’d still be painting the same
burnt-out cathedral under burnt-orange blood
dripping from the sky, collaged with quotations
from the waste land. you thought it meant
you were losing your faith; but look, there you are
sitting in church, five years in the future,
wondering (like a good protestant) why
you want so much to pray for the souls of the dead.
in fact, you could go back and forth enough
times to wear a rut in the floor of time,
but your awkward brushstrokes would still paint
the same cathedral that lists to the left. you’d still
stay up all night in agony over the alchemical
substance of the soul. your grand attempts
at pthalo yellow sunrises would still turn murky,
while the same boy sat silent beside you,
washing the globe of an apple with quinacridone
gold, shading it with payne’s grey,
the same dark worm asleep on his heart.


advertisement for the mountain | christina davis


There are two versions of every life.

In the first one, you get a mother, a father,
your very own room.

You learn to walk, which is only done by walking.
You learn the past tense of have, which is hunger.

You learn to ask almost anything
is to ask it to be over,
as when the lover asks the other

“Are you sleeping? Are you beginning
to go away?”

(And whether or not you learn it, life does not penetrate
more than five miles above the earth
or reach more than three miles beneath the sea.

Life is eight miles long.

You could walk it, and be there before sundown.
Or swim it, or fall it, or crawl it.)

The second is told from the point
of view of the sky.

spring vow | larissa shmailo

we will love like dogwood
kiss like cranes
die like moths
i promise


unrequited love poem (on watching someone you love love someone else) | sierra demulder

you will be out with friends
when the news of her existence
will be accidentally spilled all over
your bar stool. respond calmly
as if it was only a change in weather,
a punch line you saw coming.
after your fourth shot of cheap liquor,
leave the image of him kissing another woman
in the toilet.

in the morning, her name will be
in every headline: car crash, robbery, flood.
when he calls you, ignore the hundreds of ropes
untangling themselves in your stomach.
you are the best friend again. when he invites
you over for dinner, say yes
too easily. remind yourself this isn’t special,
it’s only dinner, everyone has to eat.
when he greets you at the door, do not think
for one second you are the reason
he wore cologne tonight.

someone told you once a soulmate
is not the person who makes you the happiest
but the one who makes you feel the most,
who conducts your heart to bang the loudest,
who can drag you giggling with forgiveness
from the cellar they locked you in.
it has always been him.

in his kitchen, he will hand-feed you
a piece of red pepper. his laugh
will be low and warm and it will make you
feel like candlelight. do not think this is special.
do not count on your fingers the number
of freckles you could kiss too easily.
try to think of pilot lights or olive oil,
not everything you have ever loved about him,
or it will suddenly feel boiling and possible
and so close. you will find her bobby pins
lying innocently on his bathroom sink.
her bobby pins. they look like the wiry legs
of spiders, splinters of her undressing
in his bed. do not say anything.
think of stealing them, wearing them
home in your hair. when he hugs you goodbye,
let him kiss you on the forehead.
settle for target practice.

at home, you will picture her across town
pressing her fingers into his back
like wet cement. you will wonder
if she looks like you, if you are two bedrooms
in the same house. did he fall for her features
like rearranged furniture? when he kisses her,
does she taste like new paint?

you will want to call him.
you will go as far as holding the phone
in your hand, imagine telling him
unimaginable things like you are always
ticking inside of me and i dream of you
more often than i don’t.
my body is a dead language
and you pronounce
each word perfectly.

do not call him.
fall asleep to the hum of the vcr.
she must make him happy.
she must be
she must be his favorite place in minneapolis.
you are a souvenir shop, where he goes
to remember how much people miss him
when he is gone.


o sweet spontaneous | e.e. cummings

o sweet spontaneous
earth how often have

      fingers of 
prurient philosophers pinched

,has the naughty thumb
of science prodded

      beauty        how
often have religions taken
thee upon their scraggy knees
squeezing and

buffeting thee that thou mightest conceive
to the incomparable
couch of death thy

      thou answerest

them only with



after love | alan michael parker

i wrote letters of introduction

and sent them to every embassy

of every future

just in case you need something

when you get there

including to all the outposts of wind-up afternoons

and to all the banquets where the gods disagree

and to all the bees muscling in all the flowers

and of course to every color.

in the letters i share a couple of our secrets

the story of our argument on the way to toronto

how we drove by toronto arguing

because you were wrong

and later the sweet closing of your body

on my niagara falls my maid of the mist my sea world

and how in love

you breathe in as though you were laughing.

your right hand rubs my scalp

scratching without thinking

after love

as though my head were your own.

i put that in a few of the letters.

i hope this is all okay.

now wherever you go they’ll know you

and you’ll be asked to accompany

all of the presidents

every grain of blue

and all of the ministers

every knife of every poplar

and all of the other world’s ambassadors

every cogitating groundhog.

i wouldn’t mind being there

to see.

although my first obligation is right here

as you rise after love

to dress back-lighted and so slowly

as each gesture rounds off

how the light feels about the room.

everyone should know—i will tell everyone.

i can do this much.

i will write more letters more letters

(Source: Slate)

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