Jan 28

Shafro (Hayes)

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Movie poster for SHAFT

Shafro, by Terrance Hayes (1971-)

Now that my afro's as big as Shaft's 
I feel a little better about myself. 
How it warms my bullet-head in Winter,

black halo, frizzy hat of hair. 
Shaft knew what a crown his was, 
an orb compared to the bush

on the woman sleeping next to him. 
(There was always a woman 
sleeping next to him. I keep thinking,

If I'd only talk to strangers. . . 
grow a more perfect head of hair.) 
His afro was a crown.

Bullet after barreling bullet, 
fist-fights & car chases, 
three movies & a brief TV series,

never one muffled strand, 
never dampened by sweat-- 
I sweat in even the least heroic of situations.

I'm sure you won't believe this, 
but if a policeman walks behind me, I tremble:
What would Shaft do? What would Shaft do?

Bits of my courage flake away like dandruff. 
I'm sweating even as I tell you this, 
I'm not cool,

I keep the real me tucked beneath a wig,
I'm a small American frog.
I grow beautiful as the theatre dims.
Jun 10

Courtesy (Ferry)

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Courtesy, by David Ferry (1924-)
It is an afternoon toward the end of August:
Autumnal weather, cool following on,
And riding in, after the heat of summer,
Into the empty afternoon shade and light,
The shade full of light without any thickness at all;
You can see right through and right down into the depth
Of the light and shade of the afternoon; there isn’t
Any weight of the summer pressing down.
In the backyard of the house next door there’s a kid,
Maybe eleven or twelve, and a young man,
Visitors at the house whom I don’t know,
The house in which the sound of some kind of party,
Perhaps even a wedding, is going on.
Somehow you can tell from the tone of their voices
That they don’t know each other very well—
Two guests at the party, one of them, maybe,
A friend of the bride or groom, the other the son
Or the younger brother, maybe, of somebody there.
A couple of blocks away the wash of traffic
Dimly sounds, as if we were near the ocean.
They’re shooting baskets, amiably and mildly.
The noise of the basketball, though startlingly louder
Than the voices of the two of them as they play,
Is peaceable as can be, something like meter.
The earnest voice of the kid, girlish and manly,
And the voice of the young man, carefully playing the game
Of having a grown-up conversation with him:
I can tell the young man is teaching the boy by example,
The easy way he dribbles the ball and passes it
Back with a single gesture of wrist to make it
Easy for the kid to be in synch;
Giving and taking, perfectly understood.
Jun 09

Prayer on the Threshold of Tomorrow (Tekeyan)

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Prayer on the Threshold of Tomorrow, by Vahan Tekeyan (1878-1945)

Look. New sprouts push through the fields

But which are thorns and which wheat

I do not know. Perhaps to the appetite

that is sated, all is chaff,

while to the hungry all is wheat.


Indistinguishable sounds, blows, footfalls

thud in the distance, an agonizing attack,

where the oppressed plant red

flames with their blood.

And the rains sweat and expand

into floods that shake the walls

of the oldest dams.


Lord, now is the time to send

your wisdom and kindness

to the tortured who, although

they have forgotten, need you as they hurl

themselves closer to the precipice.


Oh, God, who trimmed the wick of the mind

and poured the oil of life, do not let

your lamps be overturned.

Let them illuminate paths to your truth.


Plant love in the eyes of today’s

and tomorrow’s mighty.  Do not let

their hearts close.


And do not let the hearts of the child

and the aged be strangers

to tenderness and hope.


Let the struggle of our time be short.

Let it be settled with justice.


Let the fortress of egos,

that huge barricade,

crumble.  And let every treasure

go to every man.  Let every garden

gate be open.  But let no flower be crushed.

No single branch fall.


(Trans.  Diana Der Hovanessian)

Jun 08

Makeup (Malech)

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Makeup, by Dora Malech (1981-)

My mother does not trust
women without it.
What are they not hiding?
Renders the dead living


and the living more alive.
Everything I say sets
the clouds off blubbering
like they knew the pretty dead.


True, no mascara, no evidence.
Blue sky, blank face. Blank face,
a faithful liar, false bottom.
Sorrow, a rabbit harbored in the head.


The skin, a silly one-act, concurs.
At the carnival, each child’s cheek becomes
a rainbow. God, grant me a brighter myself.
Each breath, a game called Live Forever.


I am small. Don’t ask me to reconcile
one shadow with another. I admit—
paint the dead pink, it does not make
them sunrise. Paint the living blue,


it does not make them sky, or sea,
a berry, clapboard house, or dead.
God, leave us our costumes,
don’t blow in our noses,


strip us to the underside of skin.
Even the earth claims color
once a year, dressed in red leaves
as the trees play Grieving.
Jun 07

The Temporary Face (Dharker)

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The Temporary Face, by Imtiaz Dharker (1954-)

I draw your face on the huge sand
in the early morning, when small crabs
run and hide in the holes
I have provided for your eyes.

I go away. Through the day
people come and go, knowing nothing
but themselves, the sun on shoulders,
salt, fish, net. They scuff

your outlines, walk across your mouth,
they put down footprints in your eyes.
This makes you real, peels back
your absence, lets your image heal

like a temporary skin. I learn to
love the thing that has to be erased,
the thing I may not be allowed to keep,
sand that runs away beneath my running feet.

Jun 07

The Doll Believers (Major)

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The Doll Believers, by Clarence Major (1936-)

This lifeless construction,
Yellow hair curled and twisted,
The forever motionless face of rubber,
The dark marked eyebrows,
The flexible pug nose,
Spongy red cheeks,
Camel’s-hair eyebrows
Moving up and down.
Lifting her up, her eyes fly open,
They stare into space —
An unmoving blueness.
Those never winking, moving balls,
Controlled from the inside,
And that thick rubber body,
The imprint of a navel,
The undersized hands,
The thick soft knees,
The screwed-on head,
The air hole behind her back,
All this in its lifelessness
Gives me a feeling
That children are amazing
To imagine such a thing alive.
Jun 05

Distances (Jaccottet)

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Distances, by Phillippe Jaccottet (1925-)

Swifts turn in the heights of the air;
higher still turn the invisible stars.
When day withdraws to the ends of the earth
their fires shine on a dark expanse of sand.

We live in a world of motion and distance.
The heart flies from tree to bird,
from bird to distant star,
from star to love; and love grows
in the quiet house, turning and working,
servant of thought, a lamp held in one hand.

(Trans. Derek Mahon)

Jun 04

Making America Strong (Voss)

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Making America Strong, by Fred Voss (1952-)

We worked nights as machine operators

at Goodstone Aircraft Company, where we made parts

for the Air Force’s new bomber, the K-20.

In the parking lot, before work and during lunch break,

we drank and smoked dope and snorted chemicals.

At work we wore sunglasses

and danced in front of our machines.

We picked up bomber parts and blew through them

as if they were saxophones.

We stalked each other with squirt guns,

screaming and laughing and staggering.

We played with the overhead crane,

hoisting each other’s tool boxes to the ceiling.

We unscrewed knobs from machine handles

and threw them around like baseballs.

One foreman snuck drinks

from the bottle of vodka in his toolbox,

and paced about the shop in a daze.

We respected our foreman

He’d given us some valuable advice.

“Whatever you do,” he’d warned us over and over, “don’t join

the Air Force and fly a K-20.  It’s gonna CRASH.”

Jun 03

Sonnet on Love XIII (De Sponde)

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Sonnet on Love XIII, by Jean De Sponde (1557-1595)

"Give me a place to stand," Archimedes said, 
"and I can move the world." Paradoxical, clever, 
his remark which first explained the use of the lever 
was an academic joke. But if that dead

sage could return to life, he would find a clear 
demonstration of his idea, which is not 
pure theory after all. That putative spot 
exists in the love I feel for you, my dear.

What could be more immovable or stronger? 
What becomes more and more secure, the longer 
it is battered by inconstancy and the stress

we find in our lives? Here is that fine fixed point 
from which to move a world that is out of joint, 
as he could have done, had he known a love like this.
(Trans. David R. Slavitt)
Jun 02

The Death of Literature (Bourne)

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The Death of Literature, by Daniel Bourne (1955-)

The dead soldiers of wine bottles

line up to be buried.

on the white table of a poor poet.


“All these years of preparation”

are the poet’s last words.

“And still the wine bottles die.”


The landlady walks into the room,

feels his pulse

and leaves the house to call the police.


Next day, a steel-worker is sneering

at the poet’s two-paragraph obituary.

“Serves him right” Vanya burps.   A hangover


pounds a bridge through his head.

He fondles the half-empty bottle

of breakfast through his coat.


All he remembers is what is mother told him:

“A poet doesn’t have to work every day.”

And a journalist knows at least


what he writes is not the truth.

Vanya slings the newspaper on the street

and waits glumly for his bus


like a soldier who is not yet dead.

Words That Burn