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The Dead

by Billy Collins

The dead are always looking down on us, they say.

while we are putting on our shoes or eating a steak,

they are looking down through the glass bottom boats of heaven

as they row themselves slowly through eternity.

They watch the tops of our heads moving below on earth,

and when we lie down in a field or on a couch,

drugged perhaps by the hum of a long afternoon,

they think we are looking back at them,

which makes them lift their oars and fall silent

and wait, like parents, for us to close our eyes.



By Miriam N. Kotzin


Especially for a woman the change

is painful, to watch my nails grow thick,

the hair on my body lengthen and coarsen.

Difficult, too, to be the subject of speculation.

I, who had always seemed so

conventional, suddenly afflicted.

I suffer the whispers of neighbors,          

rightfully suspicious of my knowledge

of darkness, of unexplained bloodstains.


Unpleasant to be forced to wander,

night after night from village to village.

To be sure, there is more to it than hiding

in ditches, slinking up to the lonely cottage,

hunted by men made brutal by fear.

I am not expecting your sympathy.

I am afraid there is something messy,

unladylike about my acquired appetite,

about giving in to compulsion.

But something attractive, too.

Power, locks falling away, doors flying open.

Knowing I am the calm center of terror.


Myself childless, I began by devouring

my sisters' children, as is the custom.

It could have been a dead giveaway

when I did not join the women wailing

at the funeral.   The remains

surrounded by watchers were no more

to me than my leavings.


Understand.  Others have had a taste

for young flesh, have sinned and escaped


loathesome transformations.  True,

it is a misfortune to be singled out,

to be made into a moral lesson,

tiresome to become an example.

But I have never had patience

with women given to self-pity.



by J.T. Barbarese

The earth is stained

around the spot

where roses have lain;

snowed-on, they rot,

small sunsets, in heaps.

Like a dress getting hiked

to her throat

the blown snow keeps

drifting the headstone,

surmounting the cross,

exposing the narrow,

yet unflattened mound

with a hiss like a airlock

as the wind moves on.


The Ware Collection of Glass Flowers and Fruit, Harvard Museum

by Mark Doty

Strange paradise, complete with worms,

monument of an obsessive will to fix forms;

every apricot or yellow spot's seen so closely,

in these blown blooms and fruit, that exactitude

is not quite imitation. Leaf and root,

the sweet flag's flaring bud already,

at the tip, blackened; it's hard to remember

these were ballooned and shaped by breath

they're lovely because they seem

to decay; blue spots on bluer plums,

mold tarring a striped rose. I don't want to admire

the glassblower's academic replica,

his copies correct only to a single sense.

And why did a god so invested in permanence

choose so fragile a medium, the last material

he might expect to last? Better prose

to tell the forms of things, or illustration.

Though there's something seductive in this impossibility:

transparent color telling the live mottle of peach,

the blush or tint of crab, englobed,

gorgeous, edible. How else match that flush?

He's built a perfection out of hunger,

fused layer upon layer, swirled until

what can't be swallowed, won't yield

almost satisfies, an art

mouthed to the shape of how soft things are,

how good, before they disappear.


Life is Happy

by Albert Goldbarth

I suddenly understand; I'm watching you chop away

at a cabbage, you're humming, the kitchen is light

and knife-thrust, light and knife-thrust,

lightslaw, airslaw, and humming. That would be the way

Life gets its blade out, then goes at it

with a human heart: maybe like somebody hacking

jungle undergrowth, so the whole heart's lost in a minute,

ribbons, pulp; or maybe making an exquisite show

of almondlike slivers, holding up

the fussy ricegrain-sized inscribings, studying

its artistry from many angles, taking years,

taking seventy years; but humming

in an absentminded, pleasurable way, no matter

the time involved, or what the technique -- happy. This

was the lesson, now I remember, carried by the moted light

of the bulky, asthmatically-purring projector

they used for grade school "nature films." The room

was darkened, our tittering hushed, and then a voice,

a grave yet understanding, deeply male voice, came forth

from that machine, while on the screen a grainy lion

brought a grainy zebra down, and this was followed

by a few frames of its running with the bowel. This

was "the law of the jungle," "the law of fang and claw," and

so we understood that what we saw

as horrifying slaughter -- and that zebra's widened jaws

and splayed gray teeth would bray inside my brain

for years -- was part of a governing system, a balance:

there was pain, but it was ordered pain, and Life

was in the greenish jungle vapor, or the sky, all the while,

surveying its handiwork, calmly. Not a life, but Life

was happy, standing grandly in the kitchen

with its tools and its purview, neither king nor cabbage

more endeared to it, the knife out, at some moments

even looking like love, its hair, its hips,

its smooth, assumed efficiency,

its dearly off-key humming.


Mary with Sleeping Child

by David Shapiro

Our mother is always awake

and her baby is always asleep

Are they both wrapped in gold after all

Or is it just paint: a veil

She is ordinary in ordinary mourning

and her baby is not going to live

She leans her curls against his skull

because she is awake but he is thought

her big hands were cut by stone-cutters

when the world was rich and brown

Her eyes are tired because he is an old man

a little corpse in ghostly swaddling

You say it is all for the love of a child

but she would like to sob with her beautiful neck

and her ornamental uneconomical curls

the beautiful that could not save this child

At the foot of the Cross

That has grown within her

she will remember his loud rebuke

and infinitesimal fingers curled together without end

The historians have applied the X-rays

and they found nothing

They were searching for gold and haloes and dates

She was offering the ordinary meal again

She is awake and in trouble and he is dreaming

of riots, earthquakes, cut flesh, fire, open graves

and a lion on its discontented path

and his blood dripping into his mother's cup

Our mother's eyes are open but he has turned away

in a dream of cities and palms, victories

that look like catastrophe, and indestructible fury

and silence which he will maintain his whole life

And silence in which he will maintain our life