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Here’s a stunning punch in the gut/mind/heart from Morgan Parker‘s powerful new collection, There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé

Photo of Morgan Parker

“These Are Dangerous Times, Man”

Do you know what I would do
with the glory of everyone?
I would set it on my tongue.
I’ve been meaning to sing this
against chamomile hissing
up from the grates.
Not because it is
dark but because of how
I interpret the rules.
While tree trunks
grow into their pleats,
I continue to respect
unwritten codes.
The world would crumble
without my unwavering
sacrifice. I try to write
a text message
to describe
all my feelings
but the emoticon hands
are all white.
White Whine.
White flowers in a river.
Some plantation
stuck in my teeth like a seed.
I think the phone is racist.
The phone doesn’t care about Black people.
The phone is the nation
that loves the phone.
Otherwise my feelings are unable
to be expressed.
A white thumb pointed down.
You are
everything good.
I suck color
out of the night and then
your finger bones.
We become
a beautiful collection
of knots
trembling on the floor.
I need to know
what it feels like to be softened.
Tender filet on a fresh
wood block.
Small, warm body
in a field, un-itching.
Our bodies
never synchronized
enough.

I’m completely taken by the intensity of John Rybicki’s poems of loss, life, and love in When All the World is Old, which he wrote in homage to his wife Julie Moulds, who died of cancer 16 years after she was diagnosed at the age of 29.
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“This Noise from My Fingers”

It astounds me the ways
I scale the sky. Every day I have to
relearn my body.

Who will tell us to the world?
Our children whose heads we breathe into
like seashells casting those spells

our mothers once wooed us with?
A playground where we became the mist
hanging over everything?

We knew it was our insides
tugged inside out at last.
Once when I was a boy on the dodge

hopping fences, I let my leg hang over the lip
to that other world. I stopped
on top of that wobbly fence,

and hit the pause button on the world.
I held it all: the shadows from the plum tree
whose fruit we used to peg cars with;

the dust from my father’s broom;
even the boys chasing after me.
I knew the time was passing

and took even the shadows of the branches
into those pockets God had sewn
into my body for the traveling.

I kissed the moment flush
on the mouth then let it go,
surrendered again to the earth

with silencers on my tennis shoes.
Maybe time itself came brushing
the trail behind me until it vanished

clean off the grass, and I took up residence
with all the other balloons
floating along the landscape.

While browsing a dear friend’s bookshelves this weekend, I opened up one of the collection he was fervently recommending, Like a Beggar by Ellen Bass, and I instantly fell in love with this poem.

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“The World Has Need Of You”

everything here
seems to need us
          Rainer Maria Rilke

I can hardly imagine it
as I walk to the lighthouse, feeling the ancient
prayer of my arms swinging
in counterpoint to my feet.
Here I am, suspended
between the sidewalk and twilight,
the sky dimming so fast it seems alive.
What if you felt the invisible
tug between you and everything?
A boy on a bicycle rides by,
his white shirt open, flaring
behind him like wings.
It’s a hard time to be human. We know too much
and too little. Does the breeze need us?
The cliffs? The gulls?
If you’ve managed to do one good thing,
the ocean doesn’t care.
But when Newton’s apple fell toward the earth,
the earth, ever so slightly, fell
toward the apple.

Over the years, I find myself returning again and again to the luminous verse of the great Kashmiri-American poet, Agha Shahid Ali (1949-2001). This particular favorite can be found in A Nostalgist’s Map of America via his collected works, The Veiled Suite
agha-main

“Beyond the Ash Rains”

What have you known of loss
That makes you different from other men?
– Gilgamesh.

When the desert refused my history,
refused to acknowledge that I had lived
there, with you, among a vanished tribe,

two, three thousand years ago, you parted
the dawn rain, its thickest monsoon curtains,

and beckoned me to the northern canyons.
There, among the red rocks, you lived alone.
I had still not learned the style of nomads:

to walk between the rain drops to keep dry.
Wet and cold, I spoke like a poor man,

without irony. You showed me the relics
of our former life, proof that we’d at last
found each other, but in your arms I felt

singled out for loss. When you lit the fire
and poured the wine, “I am going,” I murmured,

repeatedly, “going where no one has been
and no one will be… Will you come with me?”
You took my hand, and we walked through the streets

of an emptied world, vulnerable
to our suddenly bare history in which I was,

but you said won’t again be, singled
out for loss in your arms, won’t ever again
be exiled, never again, from your arms.

“With what kind of voice shall we interrogate God? In Cattle of the Lord, it is anxious, sardonic, sensuous—but never despairing. In these incisive and vulnerable poems, the problem of the eternal divine is filtered through the modern world, in all its alienation and chaos. We’re shown again and again how faith is inextricable from doubt, how eros is inextricable from death….” –Nicky Beer

I’ve been haunted for days by the stunning poems in Cattle of the Lord, written by the Portuguese author Rosa Alice Branco and translated by Alexis Levitin.

Branco_from_google

“Laughter in the Grass”

Slowly we breathe in,
and the air plays throughout our bodies
in no rush to join the air
outside. They teach us
to ruminate the void and that is why we enter
one another, we who were never matter,
and at this scale the speed of light
is irrelevant to the infinite.
Our ears are filled with the cries
of nails piercing the silence
of your hands. If you don’t save yourself
from your own death, even though you are
also god, if you die in our name
and go on dying of us, all we can do
is celebrate this life. Come, my love, your laughter
presses down the grass and your weight
pierces my body: eternal sufferer
on the ground of such a joy.

Here’s a poem that asks to be read again and again by Phillip B. Williams (1986-), from his captivating and masterful debut collection, Thief in the Interior

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“Of Contour, Of Cadence”

Resist, don’t: the difference between what one thinks
the magnolias say—branches applauding
some animal act below—and what
they actually say…nothing

                                    between us can
we prepare for, only postpone. I’ve learned
to plead and to please, another difference.

~

Turn your face that way where the light no more
transfigures you than darkness makes a need for
transfiguration. Yes, the scar above your eye.

Blood had dropped from the wound, a curtain.

But I believe we are, inside, all blue, you said.
Listen, neither we nor blue make sky.
The earth spins and we, utterly, are spun.

I rarely do this, but the spirits are moving me to re-post (with slight updates) this amazing, necessary verse I shared two years ago:

“Landai belong to women,” Safia Siddiqi, a renowned Pashtun poet and former Afghan parliamentarian, said. “In Afghanistan, poetry is the women’s movement from the inside.”

“A poem is a sword,” Saheera Sharif, Mirman Baheer’s founder, said. Literature, she says, is a more effective battle for women’s rights than shouting at political rallies. “This is a different kind of struggle.”

Today I share a testament to the power of verse from the women of Afghanistan. The following couplets are called landays (or landai), an oral and often anonymous song, each with 22 syllables, created by and for the more than twenty million Pashtun women who span the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Whether sung to the beat of a hand drum in a rural village centuries ago or whispered furtively into a phone hotline run by Mirman Baheer (Afghanistan’s largest women literary society), each landay is a stunning reflection of a layered life–a life in which singing and writing these poems does not come without grave risks.

I beseech you to read this article from the New York Times, Why Afghan Women Risk Death to Write Poetryand explore more landays and images online from this beautiful issue of Poetry magazine.

Members of Mirman Baheer, Afghanistan’s largest women’s literary society

If you couldn’t love me from the start,
then why did you awake my sleeping heart?

_

I call. You’re stone.
One day you’ll look and find I’m gone.

_

May God make you into a riverbank flower
so I may smell you when I go to gather water.

_

My love gave his life for our homeland.
I’ll sew his shroud with one strand of my hair.

_

Today I spilled spinach on the floor.
Now the old goat stands in the corner, swinging a two-by-four.

_

O darling, you’re American in my eyes.
You are guilty; I apologize.
_

In my dream, I am the president.
When I awake, I am the beggar of the world.

Translated and presented by Eliza Griswold in
I Am the Beggar of the World: Landays from Contemporary Afghanistan