Leon Stokesbury was born in Oklahoma City in 1945 and grew up in rural east Texas. Stokesbury received his M.F.A. from the University of Arkansas and his Ph.D. from Florida State University. The author of five collections of poetry and editor of three poetry anthologies, he is associate professor of English at Georgia State University. The poems here appear in his latest book, AUTUMN RHYTHM: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS (University of Arkansas Press, 1996).
For the first time in what must be
the better part of two years now
I happened to hear Janis
in her glory--
all that tinctured syrup
on the radio today singing "Summertime."
And it took me back to this girl I knew,
a woman really, my first year
writing undergraduate poetry
at the Mirabeau B. Lamar
State College of Technology
in Beaumont, Texas,
back in 1966.
This woman was the latest in a line,
the latest steady
of my friend John Coyle that spring--
and I remember she was plain:
she was short: and plain
and wore her brown hair up
in a sort of bun in back
that made her plainer still.
I don't know where John met her,
but word went round
she had moved back in with Mom and Dad
down in Port Arthur
to get her head straight,
to attend Lamar,
to study History,
after several years in San Francisco
where she had drifted
into a "bad scene"
I was twenty,
still lived with Mom and Dad myself,
and so knew nothing
about "bad scenes,"
but I do remember once or twice
each month that spring
John would give a party
with this woman always there.
And always as the evening's end came on
this woman, silent for hours,
would reveal, from thin air,
settle in a chair,
release her long hair
from the bun it was in,
Her hair flowed over her shoulders,
and the ends of the strands of hair
like tarnished brass in lamplight
would brush and drag across
the sides of the guitar
as this woman bent
How low and guttural, how
slow and torchlit, how
amber her song, how absolutely
unlike the tiny nondescript
a few minutes before.--
And I remember also,
from later on that spring,
from May of that year,
two nights in particular.
The first night was a party
this woman gave
at her parents' home.
Her parents' home
the bricks the parents' home
was built with
The entire house was carpeted
John's girl greeted everyone at the door,
a martini in one hand
and a lit cigarette
in an Oriental
ivory cigarette holder in the other,
for once, and tossing back
her long brown hair.
All the women wore
black full-length party dresses--
and I remember the young woman's father,
how odd he seemed
in his charcoal suit and tie,
his gray hair--
Then John Coyle was drunk.
He spilled his beer
across the beige frontroom carpet:
that darker dampness sinking in,
the father vanished
from the scene.
The next week we double-dated.
I convinced John and his girl
to see a double feature,
Irma La Douce and Tom Jones,
at the Pines Theatre.
And I can recall John's girl
saying just one thing that night.
After the films, John was quizzical,
contentious, full of ridicule
for movies I had guaranteed he would enjoy.
He turned and asked her
what she thought--
and in the softest
of tones, a vague rumor
of honeysuckle in the air,
she almost whispered,
"I thought they were beautiful."
That was the last time that I saw her,
the last thing that I heard her say.
A few weeks later,
she drove over to John's house
in the middle of the afternoon,
and caught him in bed
with Suzanne Morain,
a graduate assistant
from the English Department at Lamar.
John told me later
that when she saw them in the bedroom
she ran into the kitchen,
picked up a broom,
and began to sweep the floor--
When John sauntered in
she threw the broom at him,
ran out the door,
got in her car and drove away.
And from that day on,
no one ever saw that woman
in Beaumont again.
The next day she moved to Austin.
And later on, I heard,
back to San Francisco.
And I remember when John told me this,
with a semi-shocked expression
on his face, he turned
and looked up, and said, "You know,
I guess she must have really loved me."
I was twenty years old.
What did I know?
What could I say?
I could not think
of anything to say,
I guess so."
It was summertime.
Thus runs the world away.
". . . Seems to me to be
one of that breed who, when
he approaches Dallas from
the north, sees, welling
up, gold chunks of buildings,
great glass in the sun, row
over row of gold teeth, hog
grins, glistening, blind.
Here we have the mnemonic
daring, the nasty clarity,
the hand print of necessity
of one of those 'intellectuals'
attempting the flamenco
over a Big Abyss. This
is the kind of bore who views
the abominable Hawaiian
photo of Mom and Uncle
Joe, loud shirts, volcano
in the background, and then
lets the sad sow metaphors
multiply and cry. This is
he, this is he who sees
the burned girl, that fried
face's texture like plastic
puke, and aches to get his
hands on all that saffron
and blue. Reading this entity
is stepping off into
slime, into little fishes, fast
and crappy creatures nipping
at your knees. Subtleties
of rhythm? Subtleties of
rhyme? If swine had wings,
this guy would fly . . ."
R. S. (Sam) Gwynn was born in Eden, N.C. in 1948 and educated at Davidson College and the University of Arkansas. He is Professor of English at Lamar University, Beaumont, TX and a regular contributor of criticism to the Sewanee Review and the Hudson Review. Sam edited two volumes of the Dictionary of Literary Biography and is co-editor of The Advocates of Poetry: A Reader of American Poet-Critics of the Modernist Era (University of Arkansas, 1996). The poems here were selected from his chapbook of verse, The Area of Code of God (Aralia Press, 1993). Sam's newest collection of verse is available for order at Amazon: No Word of Farewell (Pikeman Press, June 2000).
Here where the door stands open, lights are on.
Each object occupies a special place.
Note the half sheet of foolscap by the phone
Where numbers someone labored to erase
Have left impressions. And there's no dial tone.
The t.v. glows, turned down. Dark figures chase
One who must learn no mercy can be shown
In such an extraordinary case.
An individual was here, but who?
His sheets are cold, the paperback romance
gapes open, dog-eared, while his hanging pants
And belt await him. There is nothing missing,
Nor any sound except the kettle hissing
Ready for the next one, whose name is You.
In which I rise untroubled by my dreams.
In which my unsung theories are upheld
By massive votes. In which my students' themes
Move me. In which my name is not misspelled.
In which I enter strangers' rooms to find,
Matched in unbroken sets, immaculate,
My great unwritten books. In which I sign
My name for girls outside a convent gate.
In which I run for daylight and my knee
Does not fold up. In which the home teams win.
In which my unwed wife steeps fragrant tea
In clean white cups. In which my days begin
With scenes in which, across unblemished sands,
Unborn, my children come to touch my hands.
There were days to be gotten through, and days before,
But then there was the day I lashed you to the bedposts
Crying, "I can kiss you, I can kill you, I can
Make you sane enough to pass the bar exams." That day
I said, or meant to say, that the odd afternoon
We dodged the falling parts of the exploding city,
Pink mists of flesh, the rain of rusted scrap that fell
On the heads of those less fortunate, I said
That the day we climbed the dark stair to set aside
Our jewelry, our clothes, there on the level
Above the street where cars continued passing,
We fell, at last, into the hands of ourselves alone
To rip the sheets for bandages. Then, that day,
You taught me what I knew: I would be the one
To make the most of you. Then we made love again
So now we are here, this summit, this glaring stone,
And a shore where two smooth lines of white converge
Down which the afflicted struggle, sad of the earth.
You in your gown of white, I in my white robe,
Our hands that have touched too many wrong things
Having led a trail across bleached rock to where
We stand, receive, open and say to all,
"This is the point from which you start again.
The past ends here in love and the touch of skin.
See us and touch, and by that touch be healed
Of all your hesitations. Do not fear."
By this, I mean to say the simplest thanks:
Whatever we have asked for has been given,
As now, descending the dark stair, I say this truth:
The sunlight melts like copper in your hair
Charles' work has appeared in such magazines as The New Yorker and Poetry, from which he received the Bess Hokin Award. Steal the Bacon, a book of verse, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Charles has also published a book of translations of the work of Catullus: a few selections from that book appear below. He is currently working on a translation of Ovid's Metamorphosis. Charles is associate professor at Queensborough Community College of the City University of New York. If you'd like to read a cool literary anecdote about Charles, just click here.
Whenever I try to imagine the Garden
Of Eden, I see an upended cave
Like the one which my son has created
Out of the now lidless cardboard carton
In which a neighbor's Frigidaire arrived;
And an old woollen blanket, liberated
From an upstairs closet. Done with the chore
Of rearranging mental furniture,
He clambers into his place and hunkers down
Among the odors, those imaginary
Friends from an unimaginable past;
Warmed by his warmth, they come forth, voices drawn
Out of the blanket's faded memory,
Out of the threadbare fabric of that nest.
I watch the man in the schoolyard
As he brushes a flat coat of institutional beige
Over a wall brilliant with childish graffiti,
Turning a fresh page,
A surface the kids will respray
As soon as his back is turned. I suppose I should
Be thinking--as an upstanding, taxpay-
ing citizen would--
Of the money and man-hours spent
Covering up these phosphorescent hues
And adolescent cries of discontent;
But as he continues,
I find myself divided:
The huge roller goes sweeping on over the stone,
And I see in what he is doing a labor
Not unlike my own
When I erase, letter by letter,
The words I've just written, in the hope that all
My scratching out may summon something better--
And besides, the wall
Surely approves of this work,
For who can believe that it would choose to say
FUCK THE WORLD or FAT ANTHONY'S A JERK
Or DMF JOSE?
No, left to its own devices,
The wall would stand forever an unlettered book,
Prepared to meet eternity's inspection
With its own blank look.
But that, of course, is what summons
The hidden children out of their hiding places--
That inviting blankness as the janitor finally covers
Up the last traces,
Gathers together his painting
Gear and goes clattering off. No sooner gone
Than they return to renew the ancient complaint
Of speech against stone,
Spelling out--misspelling, often--
The legends of the heart's lust for joy and violence
In waves that break upon but will not soften
The cliffs of obdurate silence.
Flavius, if your new infatuation
weren't some dull slut, you wouldn't keep silent--
you'd have to tell Catullus all about her.
I really can't imagine this hotblooded
whore you're so keen on--shame must have you tongue-tied!
You do not lie alone: even though speechless,
your little love nest is a revelation,
dripping with garlands & exotic odors,
not to mention the battered pillows scattered
around the couch gone prematurely feeble
from your incessant nighttime acrobatics!
There isn't any point to keeping quiet:
we know you're doing it--even your vanished
love-handles show how fiercely you've been fucking!
So whatever you have, whether nice or nasty,
tell us--for I would raise you and your passion
right up to heaven with my clever verses.
Wretched Catullus! You have to stop this nonsense,
admit that what you see has ended is over!
Once there were days which shone for you with rare brightness,
when you would follow wherever your lady led you,
the one we once loved as we will love no other;
there was no end in those days to our pleasures,
when what you wished for was what she also wanted.
Yes, there were days which shone for you with rare brightness.
Now she no longer wishes; you mustn't want it,
you've got to stop chasing her now--cut your losses,
harden your heart & hold firmly against her.
Goodbye now, lady. Catullus' heart is hardened,
he will not look to you nor call against your wishes--
how you'll regret it when nobody comes calling!
So much for you, bitch--your life is all behind you!
Now who will come to see you, thinking you lovely?
Whom will you love now, and whom will you belong to?
Whom will you kiss? And whose lips will you nibble?
But you, Catullus! You must hold out now, firmly!
I'll fuck the pair of you as you prefer it,
oral Aurelius, anal Furius,
who read my verses but misread their author:
you think that I'm effeminate, since they are!
Purity's proper in the godly poet,
but it's unnecessary in his verses,
which really should be saucy & seductive,
even salacious in a girlish manner
and capable of generating passion
not just in boys, but in old men who've noticed
getting a hard-on has been getting harder!
But you, because my poems beg for kisses,
thousands of kisses, you think I'm a fairy!
I'll fuck the pair of you as you prefer it.
Dana is widely known as a poet, critic, editor, and translator. The work published here has been selected from his two books of poetry, Daily Horoscope and The Gods of Winter, both published by Graywolf Press (1986 and 1991, respectively). For an in-depth view of Dana's life and works, read An Interview with Dana Gioia on this site.
Do not expect that if your book falls open
to a certain page, that any phrase
you read will make a difference today,
or that the voices you might overhear
when the wind moves through the yellow-green
and golden tent of autumn, speak to you.
Things ripen or go dry. Light plays on the
dark surface of the lake. Each afternoon
your shadow walks beside you on the wall,
and the days stay long and heavy underneath
the distant rumor of the harvest. One
more summer gone,
and one way or another you survive,
dull or regretful, never learning that
nothing is hidden in the obvious
changes of the world, that even the dim
reflection of the sun on tall, dry grass
is more than you will ever understand.
And only briefly then
you touch, you see, you press against
the surface of impenetrable things.
The flowers sent here by mistake,
signed with a name that no one knew,
are turning bad. What shall we do?
Our neighbor says they're not for her,
and no one has a birthday near.
We should thank someone for the blunder.
Is one of us having an affair?
At first we laugh, and then we wonder.
The iris was the first to die,
enshrouded in its sickly-sweet
and lingering perfume. The roses
fell one petal at a time,
and now the ferns are turning dry.
The room smells like a funeral,
but there they sit, too much at home,
accusing us of some small crime,
like love forgotten, and we can't
throw out a gift we've never owned.
Money is a kind of poetry.
Money, the long green,
cash, stash, rhino, jack
or just plain dough.
Chock it up, fork it over,
shell it out. Watch it
burn holes through pockets.
To be made of it! To have it
to burn! Greenbacks, double eagles,
megabucks and Ginnie Maes.
It greases the palm, feathers a nest,
holds heads above water,
makes both ends meet.
Money breeds money.
Gathering interest, compounding daily.
Always in circulation.
Money. You don't know where it's been,
but you put it where your mouth is.
And it talks.
All afternoon my brothers and I have worked in the
Digging this hole, laying you into it, carefully packing the soil.
Rain blackened the horizon, but cold winds kept it over the Pacific,
And the sky above us stayed the dull gray
Of an old year coming to an end.
In Sicily a father plants a tree to celebrate his first son's
An olive or a fig tree--a sign that the earth has one more life to bear.
I would have done the same, proudly laying new stock into my father's orchard,
A green sapling rising among the twisted apple boughs,
A promise of new fruit in other autumns.
But today we kneel in the cold planting you, our native
Defying the practical custom of our fathers,
Wrapping in your roots a lock of hair, a piece of an infant's birth cord,
All that remains above earth of a first-born son,
A few stray atoms brought back to the elements.
We will give you what we can--our labor and our soil,
Water drawn from the earth when the skies fail,
Nights scented with the ocean fog, days softened by the circuit of bees.
We plant you in the corner of the grove, bathed in western light,
A slender shoot against the sunset.
And when our family is no more, all of his unborn brothers
Every niece and nephew scattered, the house torn down,
His mother's beauty ashes in the air,
I want you to stand among strangers, all young and emphemeral to you,
Silently keeping the secret of your birth.
Akua Lezli Hope is an award-winning poet whose latest book EMBOUCHURE: Poems on Jazz and Other Musics (ArtFarm Press, 1995), won the Writer's Digest 1995 Award for Self-Publishing. Akua says she, "writes to encode the urban, Black, emigrant, technopeasant mythos; to conduct a mythopoeic exploration of ethnicity and interculturality, neo-afrikan american psychographics and semiology, the reinvestment of indigenous jazz and funk with motive force and votive power, identity and aculturation, struggle and joy, transcendence and passion."
for Eddie, Carmen and Victor
Steadfast the signal
through years of interference:
westwinds bind the atmosphere
like some forevisioned forcefield
confine the sphere
to press toward shatter
Steadfast the clues
Revoltillo Bacalao ! a simple grace
the peondish, the peasant stake
in survival, stomach, art
Revoltillo Bacalao ! whole
protein strength and science
the children to grow. on barren
chance for freedom, fertile
the longing toward.
catch the glimpse in Time
Will, be better.
Feed the mass with fish
and grain, fish is soul
and grain is brain
salvage the belly from bottom
to dance, admix the chemistry
the fish rises from salt
full bodied and firm
soaked in water from our mutual well.
The silenced make war through cuisine
hearty scions of yam, plantain, greens
codfish and ackee: revoltillo bacalao!
resurrect the fish, drench away brine
from defiled ark crossings. shift weight
spice, like dance, one foot to other
inflection of hip, salsa, saffron
reggae, achiote : bloodsun in rice.
so what my spanish is off
toward the english and none
knows better the look of the letter
than we who key the scale to shatter.
mad malaguena and mulatto meet
trespass and bounty: undeveloped country
slow sad tangos and kushite beat
surpass surrender create the new order.
Raise with me, my cousin
perhaps we can figure
better to trigger
and other technicians
to join conscience,
stomach and art.
Bacalao: codfish, a popular Afro-Caribbean fish ,
salted for storage
Malaguena: a woman of Malaga, Spain city in southern Spain, NE of Gibraltar, population 334,988; a place in Cuba; a variety of the fandango - a couple dance; a folk tune native to Malaga that is similar to the fandango with stanzas of four octosyllabic verses
Revoltillo: to stir up, to agitate, to scramble
Revoltillo Bacalao: a dish found in New York City's Cuban- Chinese restaurants, composed of codfish, scrambled eggs, green peppers, onions; served atop yellow rice; it bears a striking resemblance to the Jamaica, W.I., dish, codfish and ackee.
Conflagrant syllables sing light
Clavilux and Lumia: music, our sight
sound our plexus, prism chords
of mutant flesh, bigger brains, better
words, whole souls sustained above
grey concrete's dirge and chokethroat rattle
Pen's war dance and laser song:
How we heal, How we do battle.
Clavilux: an internally programmed, self-operating
organ, first constructed in 1919, home use version built in 1930
by Thomas Wilfred (1889-1968), painter sculptor and lumia artist.
Derived from clavicen (1734), which used keys of a clavier to
control transparent tapes illuminated by candles.
Lumia: name of a later color organ by nuclear engineer Earl Riebeck.
Diane Engle is a professional musician (pianist and organist), non-practicing attorney, and mother of five. Her verse has appeared in Sparrow, The Formalist, Piedmont Review, ELF and numerous other literary journals. She will also have work in the forthcoming anthology, The Muse Strikes Back.
She almost died, my sister chided
in cruel confidence, and it was true.
That's why I never saw them
through my infant eyes, nor sucked.
They might have not existed then
or after: my mother had a very private soul.
I nursed on sterile bottles
and (because of her) I thrived.
A blur of fifty-seven years
brought one more season. Last spring
I finally saw them, darkly mauve,
as sad, small endings to thin,
flattened breasts. We braced against
the merciless miracle of dawn,
warm-wrapped beneath our eiderdown
of silence: I cardling, to console
the sharpest edge of pain,
she (no longer crying out)
still nourishing my need
for all the give and take of love.
In summer's light I stood, centuries and continents
from home, where she had stood, watching this weight
of shadow work its spell on stone. Wild ivy crawling
from its roots, bird songs, monuments bearing our name
are all that offered blessing to this shrine.
Rays from the same sun that splashed their clocks
brought ruins into sharpened focus
on patchwork landscape numb with age.
Aunt Margaret, countless generations great,
was thought to be a witch. They buried her upright
with earls and lords in Scotland
long before Cromwell came, flattening castle
and cathedral in God's name. It was the custom then.
Birds, undistressed by fallen kings
or upright witches, sang carols handed down
millenia of genes. Do not tell me
A love of sundials cannot be carried thus.
It was the women, donors of my blood,
diluted and diluted still by shaft, by shadow,
placed them--carved that surety in stone
that braced the gnomon, held the dial,
caught the sun, and turned the shade.
I feel the witches' blood, and sense
the curling lip of outrage. My name
is carved in stone and yet
I cannot stay the shaft the lengthens shadow
across this bright abyss, this splay of light.
Summoning his summer soul
the madman moved
from fall into winter:
to be steady,
to have all papers
under the proper clip,
to enter each season ready.
Leaves fell in winter,
snow into spring,
rain into summer,
and then he knew:
there are some things
you cannot hold down
with paper clips,
some summers that never come,
some seasons' souls
David Galef is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Mississippi (Oxford). He is a widely published poet and short story writer, whose work has appeared in over 60 journals, including Shenandoah, The Gettysburg Review, and The Formalist. His first novel FLESH was published by Permanent Press in 1995.
I discovered that my own little postage stamp of native
soil was worth
writing about and that I would never live long enough to exhaust it....
In Oxford, Mississippi,
When the catfish are in bloom,
And the bottle trees release their ghosts
That gibber in the gloom,
We settle on the front porch,
Splash some iced tea on the dogs,
And shoot to kill mosquitoes
As big as flying hogs,
Then watch the cotton blushing
As the oaks and kudzu kiss
While the frat boys ambush coeds
In the grove at dear Ole Miss,
And Faulkner waves from Rowan Oak
As if he weren't so dead
Till we finish all the bourbon
And stumble off to bed.
All languages are composed of dead metaphors as the soil of
What was the surface of the lake
Before glass was made?
How would Neanderthal take
To the calm of a window shade?
Vergil sent his craft
Forth on little wheels.
Tilting fore and aft,
Hydroplanes take to their heels.
All I said I unsay now,
Raveling webs of words,
But that is not what I meant at all
In order to mean something new,
Trying to re-verb sunrise,
Trying to undo the dew.
Or stirring the coffee slowly.
As if retracing a rune,
Hoping the sugar will undissolve,
Emerging pristine on the spoon.
The paralyzed man in the tower
Breathes weakly and keeps a straight face.
He searches for pearls with a damaged spyglass
On the windblown Isle of Lace
He whistles to send a blue monkey
Out hunting to pick up the pearls
Which lie within reach of the beach and in pools
That eddy and ripple in swirls.
When the monkey has gathered the gems
And the man marked them down with a pen,
A gust of sea wind comes from somewhere behind
To scatter the pearls again.
The stairs to the tower are rickety;
They give way to the slightest of fears.
The walls of the turret have all sprouted fur
And no one has visited in years.
Inside the tower is darkness,
Outside, the voice of the blind.
One of the scenes is a means of reflection,
The other a habit of mind.
The man inside is reticent;
He doesn't care to feel
The glimmer of space on the Isle of Lace.
He knows it isn't real.
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Dr. Gloria Glickstein Brame
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