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Swan Girls by Theodora Goss

They are so lovely, the wild swan girls:

white wings and absence . . .

1.       How to recognize a swan girl.

She will have delicate wrists.

You will be able to circle her wrists

with your hands. No, don't try it:

you don't hold swan girls, not like that.

Any suggestion of captivity sends them flying

off on white swan wings, or on high heels

across a street or continent.

They can't bear to be caught.

No, look at her wrists: skin over bone, with faint

pinpricks where the pinions go.

2.       How to catch a swan girl.

Feign lack of interest.

Stare off into the distance, at a tree perhaps

or a beach, or the New York skyline.

Turn to her. Be polite, almost too polite.

Ask a question to which she doesn't know the answer.

(Will it snow tomorrow? What are clouds made of?

How do you say eternity in Norwegian?)

Interest her, and keep her interested,

or she will fly off.

3.       How to keep a swan girl.

You can't, not in a house or an apartment,

not in a city, sometimes not even a country.

When she telephones, you will ask, where are you?

When she laughs, it will sound

so far away, and in the background

you will hear waves, or a language you don't understand.

4.       How to marry a swan girl.

Steal her coat of feathers.

This part always goes badly.

5.       How to lose a swan girl.

Wait. Eventually, she will go somewhere else.

If you hide her coat of feathers, she will leave without it.

Wait, you say, but I thought . . . Oh, those old stories?

You didn't believe those, did you?

She knows where to get another, and anyway

she doesn't need wings to fly.

6.       How to mourn a swan girl.

Make a shrine, perhaps on a dresser or small table.

Three swan feathers, a candle, a stone smoothed

by ocean waves. That should do it.

Sit on the sofa. Hold one of the feathers. Cry.

Realize it was inevitable.

Swan girls fly. It's just what they do.

It wasn't you.

7.       How to be a swan girl.

There are no rules the sky is infinite

the world is yours laid out in rivers and mountains

like a great quilt pieced by your grandmother.

She is older than they are.

Her hair is white as snow and covers them

her eyes are bright as stars and when she laughs


You take after her.

Swan girl where will you go?

Everywhere you say and then

everywhere else.

(aaaaand that's 30 poems! Hooray for April, and see you all next year.)
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On Loving a Saudi Girl by Carina Yun

After your beloved leaves, you will take
a ten-hour red-eye flight back to America.
At baggage claim, you will wait for your bag
to drop onto the conveyer belt, then drag
the weight of Sultan Ahmed across the terminal–
the soumak rug, candlesticks, and pashmina scarves.
In Istanbul, muezzin will call out five
times a day from the minaret. It's heard
on loudspeaker in every house, and every storefront.
You will wake to morning adhan, not knowing
whether to repent for those moments spent with her.
What is it called when you are wrong to love?
In front of the airport, your mother will find you
soaked with rain. "What happened?" she will ask.
You won't speak. She will spring open your
father's green umbrella and hover.
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Seeds by M Sereno

They hide the truth in seeds, you see.

In the black jeweled eyes of the atis. In the slippery throngs of pakwan,

in bitter lanzones watered by my tears when my mother told me

of the tree growing in my belly, nourished on my death.

Swallow a seed and it will sprout within you,

becoming your veins, invading your bones.

Those poets and conquerors knew this. Knew the mouth is an altar.

Centuries later their stories sink into our skin, coiling and uncoiling

as we swallow fables, fleshy pulp of perfect red apples,

a rosy roundness we are taught to dream: ruddy lips,

fairest face, beauty enough to kill for. I did not eat fruit as a child.

I ate summer, storm, the star-strung perfume of night,

spitting out the seeds because I wanted to live.

Then I grew. These days it's difficult to remember

the crack of wood between my teeth: their stories say

all fruits are poisoned, and forests are lies. We repose

in dark of skin and shadow. Oh, I have swallowed

so much fruit my cheeks bulge with the fullness of it, oh

my speech has gorged on this glut of strange language

so I can say, snow, apple, pear with glassy clarity

while my tongue twists on kamias, manggang hilaw, durian.

I am afraid of forests. I do not know why

the pineapple has a thousand eyes. I do not eat,

except when it is safe. They hide the truth in seeds,

and princesses asleep in glass and sea and thorn

cannot eat—only wait, while dark around them

the night comes alive with aswang. The ones who eat.

My mother warned me, see, see: eat too much truth

to spite your hunger, and that is what you become—

this snake-haired woman shorn in half

grinning as she stretches her long sucking tongue,

lips red with blood of infants and innocent maidens.

But oh mother, oh fruit: to awaken into the pulse-point of night

and glory in all the sharpnesses of taste, to swallow

all fruit and flesh and seed, to nourish forests in limbs

deep as earth, to feast on storm salty-sweet and star-bursting

with stories unpeeled and still dripping with death and womb:

to starve no longer— Oh storytellers, oh fairest princesses.

Let me take this fruit that has killed you.

It was never truly yours. Let me crack it open

bare-handed and sink my teeth into it, drink deep.

They hide the truth in seeds. Look:

how it runs down my fingers, sweet and clear as death,

bitter as history.
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Apotropaic Magic by Margaret Wack

I am the king's daughter slaughtered.

I am a thrall, enthralled, I charm the ocean

into calmness and surcease. I am

a witchwood, hazel woman

smooth as flesh, woven and crafted

and cast from the cliff.

I am a carven queen, a saint,

a pretty thing to bless the ship

with good luck and swift passage.

What do you hope to turn away?

You know that blood must bless the sea,

you people of the shores and crags

and salt-strewn settlements forget slowly:

the ceremony stands: I go before you as a sacrifice

and sink through brine and black water

and plant my feet upon a field

of blue-faced girls who bloom and snarl:

we are your legacy, your lineage, your litany,

the faces that will eat you when you drown.
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Black Ships Burning by Jennifer Crow

No way home--you know this
when flames stain the wine-dark sea.
You watch the past blaze
against Ilium's sands;
the glow illuminates
the stunned faces of your comrades.
This is how kings roll the dice:
not with bones, but lives
of men. Sea spray or tears,
salt touches your mouth,
and the gulls laugh overhead
like the distant gods.
Tomorrow blood will run
down your blade
and the hot, rank scent of death
will cling to you in the night
while the captains count their spoils.
You knew glory once, when
Aeolus's winds snarled your hair
and waves creaked beneath the bow
of your ship. Athena's eye watched you--
but no more. Her painted wards
warp and bubble in the heat,
and you stand godless on the beach
watching fires paint the clouded night.
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Church Going by Philip Larkin

Once I am sure there's nothing going on
I step inside, letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence.

Move forward, run my hand around the font.
From where I stand, the roof looks almost new -
Cleaned, or restored? Someone would know: I don't.
Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few
Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce
'Here endeth' much more loudly than I'd meant.
The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,
Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.

Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,
And always end much at a loss like this,
Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,
When churches will fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep
A few cathedrals chronically on show,
Their parchment, plate and pyx in locked cases,
And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?

Or, after dark, will dubious women come
To make their children touch a particular stone;
Pick simples for a cancer; or on some
Advised night see walking a dead one?
Power of some sort will go on
In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;
But superstition, like belief, must die,
And what remains when disbelief has gone?
Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,

A shape less recognisable each week,
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last, the very last, to seek
This place for what it was; one of the crew
That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,
Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff
Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
Or will he be my representative,

Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation - marriage, and birth,
And death, and thoughts of these - for which was built
This special shell? For, though I've no idea
What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,
It pleases me to stand in silence here;

A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognized, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.
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On Reading Edna St. Vincent Millay by Carina Yun

I think about the morning's muezzin
waking me at four-thirty, his song
solemn, I'd stumble out of bed

and bend my knees on the soumak
rug not knowing whether to repent
for those mornings spent under

the fragrance of her umber hair,
the Turkish paper sprawled over us
as she read, or the mornings waking

to the smell of thick coffee,
poured into a ceramic mug painted
with her celadon eyes; it seems

her eyes follow me on deserted walks
over the Galata Bridge, the fisherman's
line pulling beside the fence, a trapped fish,

I wouldn't ever know why she threw
her pearls into the sea, I should have
forgotten her already, but her eyes,

I miss them, her breath I miss,
how to think of those days, as now,
when Millay describes the knots

that bound her beneath the earth's
soil, and the sounds of renewed rainfall
beating on the thatched roof.
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Not With Flowers by Deepthi Gopal

The honeysuckle that you did not love

will twine its tourniquet around your grave, engrave

its own story in the space where yours belongs, seep

through every crack and crevice till even the stone

forgets your name; the hummingbirds will visit

but they will not care for you. I write this to you

because when I'm done I will be carried out to sea,

poured into the river’s mouth in a torrent of benedictions,

and you, buried weed-choked, will never hold me.

I write this to you in defence of the green growing things.

I write this to you to fill the spaces you left in your wake

where the honeysuckle once grew.
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Inland by Edna St Vincent Millay

People that build their houses inland,
   People that buy a plot of ground
Shaped like a house, and build a house there,
   Far from the sea-board, far from the sound

Of water sucking the hollow ledges,
   Tons of water striking the shore,—
What do they long for, as I long for
   One salt smell of the sea once more?

People the waves have not awakened,
   Spanking the boats at the harbour’s head,
What do they long for, as I long for,—
   Starting up in my inland bed,

Beating the narrow walls, and finding
   Neither a window nor a door,
Screaming to God for death by drowning,—
   One salt taste of the sea once more?

This entry was originally posted at http://brigdh.dreamwidth.org/14038.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
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Inland by Edna St Vincent Millay

People that build their houses inland,
   People that buy a plot of ground
Shaped like a house, and build a house there,
   Far from the sea-board, far from the sound

Of water sucking the hollow ledges,
   Tons of water striking the shore,—
What do they long for, as I long for
   One salt smell of the sea once more?

People the waves have not awakened,
   Spanking the boats at the harbour’s head,
What do they long for, as I long for,—
   Starting up in my inland bed,

Beating the narrow walls, and finding
   Neither a window nor a door,
Screaming to God for death by drowning,—
   One salt taste of the sea once more?
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The Liar's Charm by Gillian Daniels

Cleave logic in two with your tongue.

Sharpen lies into fancy letter openers with scrolled brass handles.

Your head can think of a way to make a thing not what it seems.

It’s so good at fooling you, why not use it to carve reality into your

own liking.

Start small.

Tell him he is beautiful.

Tell her she is brave.

Repeat these things until they are not observations

but truth.

Turn her into a warring, fierce thing.

Make him blush.

Shape them with the sound of your breath between your teeth.

When you have remade them into what you want them to be,

push your powers further.

Explain to friends of friends you won the lottery once but it was all stolen.

Tell the police officer you have never sped before in your life,

this is your first time being pulled over for anything

except when you were small and shoplifted a can of Crisco without your

mother's notice.

Make sure to describe your mother's chill anger in detail.

Learn how to cut.

Tell the woman at the airport your flight hasn’t been canceled, what's

wrong with her?

Say, "The next round of drinks is on me," and leave right after.

Tell him he's ugly.

Tell her you always knew she was a coward.


Spells, once cast, break easily

no matter the silver sheen in your mouth.

Carve the illusion with care because the lie that breaks

slices the liar with her own tongue,

opens her up like a false love letter with a real heart inside it.
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Storm by Ellen Bryant Voigt

one minute a slender pine indistinguishable from the others

the next its trunk horizontal still green the jagged stump

a nest for the flickers

one minute high wind and rain the skies

lit up the next a few bright winking stars the lashing of the brook

one minute an exaltation in the apple trees the shadblow trees

the next white trash on the ground new birds

or the same birds crowding the feeder

one minute the children were sleeping in their beds

you got sick you got well you got sick

the lilac bush we planted is a tree the cat creeps past

with something in her mouth she’s hurrying down to where

the culvert overflowed one minute bright yellow

marsh marigolds springing up the next

the farmer sweeps them into his bales of hay
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After the Changeling Incantation by John Philip Johnson

To become a goose 

had seemed important, earlier,

when he made the change. 

A gray goose for some reason, fat, 

with the ability to lift above

the archers' arrows,

fly past the leafless autumn trees, 

and cross the bowl of the mountain valley, 

beyond those far peaks. 

There was a mission—

to get something,

or to return with someone— 

some reason to be a goose

other than just gooseness, 

other than filling your wings with sky—

Hands drop the wand; 

feathers cannot pick it up.

We forget when we change

we become something else. 

Things mean differently.

He circled the great alpine woods, 

forgetting. There, below, 

knotted in the trees,

were the plottings of men, 

creatures like little gods, 

with their endless violence upon things.

They make such noise. They wail and bleed.

It is no place for a goose.

It is no place for one who can find

north and south within his body

and know which one to choose.
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Winter by Kahlil Gibran

Come close to me, oh companion of my full life;
Come close to me and let not Winter’s touch
Enter between us. Sit by me before the hearth,
For fire is the only fruit of Winter.

Speak to me of the glory of your heart, for
That is greater than the shrieking elements
Beyond our door.
Bind the door and seal the transoms, for the
Angry countenance of the heaven depresses my
Spirit, and the face of our snow-laden fields
Makes my soul cry.

Feed the lamp with oil and let it not dim, and
Place it by you, so I can read with tears what
Your life with me has written upon your face.

Bring Autumn’s wine. Let us drink and sing the
Song of remembrance to Spring’s carefree sowing,
And Summer’s watchful tending, and Autumn’s
Reward in harvest.

Come close to me, oh beloved of my soul; the
Fire is cooling and fleeing under the ashes.
Embrace me, for I fear loneliness; the lamp is
Dim, and the wine which we pressed is closing
Our eyes. Let us look upon each other before
They are shut.
Find me with your arms and embrace me; let
Slumber then embrace our souls as one.
Kiss me, my beloved, for Winter has stolen
All but our moving lips.

You are close by me, My Forever.
How deep and wide will be the ocean of Slumber,
And how recent was the dawn!
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October 18, 1990 by Michael Broder

God loves an expiration date. —Jason Schneiderman

Best when used

before date stamped on top,

sell-by date,

freshness date,

date of my diagnosis,

my spoilage.

I was better used before, safer.

But 10 years post-expiration,

you found me on a shelf,

intriguing, older

dating someone else.

You deemed me a safe emotional bet:

hypochondria would protect you,

you could never love a disease vector,

sustain such high risk.

But the heart doesn’t work that way,

and we were each other’s bashert,

the Jewish version of Zeus’s scales,

tossed dice.

Loving me, you had no choice

but to make good use of my infection.

You took it like a height to be defended,

built walls around it,

turrets, aimed your guns.

I knew you thought love would declaw you,

tenderness soften your edge,

or that you were Eurydice,

always disappearing

when a man looked at you over his shoulder.

But this time it was you who risked looking back,

took the chance you’d be the one

to emerge from love’s underworld alone.
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Written by Himself by Gregory Pardlo

I was born in minutes in a roadside kitchen a skillet

whispering my name. I was born to rainwater and lye;

I was born across the river where I

was borrowed with clothespins, a harrow tooth,

broadsides sewn in my shoes. I returned, though

it please you, through no fault of my own,

pockets filled with coffee grounds and eggshells.

I was born still and superstitious; I bore an unexpected burden.

I gave birth, I gave blessing, I gave rise to suspicion.

I was born abandoned outdoors in the heat-shaped air,

air drifting like spirits and old windows.

I was born a fraction and a cipher and a ledger entry;

I was an index of first lines when I was born.

I was born waist-deep stubborn in the water crying

ain’t I a woman and a brother I was born

to this hall of mirrors, this horror story I was

born with a prologue of references, pursued

by mosquitoes and thieves, I was born passing

off the problem of the twentieth century: I was born.

I read minds before I could read fishes and loaves;

I walked a piece of the way alone before I was born.
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From Jubilate Agno by Christopher Smart

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his Way.
For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer...
For when his day's work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord's watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life...
For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
For the dexterity of his defence is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For he is tenacious of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion...
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, tho he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadrupede.
For he can tread to all the measures upon the musick
For he can swim for life.
For he can creep.
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Over and Over Stitch by Jorie Graham

Late in the season the world digs in, the fat blossoms
hold still for just a moment longer.   
Nothing looks satisfied,
but there is no real reason to move on much further:
this isn’t a bad place;   
why not pretend

we wished for it?
The bushes have learned to live with their haunches.   
The hydrangea is resigned
to its pale and inconclusive utterances.
Towards the end of the season
it is not bad

to have the body. To have experienced joy
as the mere lifting of hunger   
is not to have known it   
less. The tobacco leaves   
don’t mind being removed
to the long racks—all uses are astounding

to the used.
There are moments in our lives which, threaded, give us heaven—
noon, for instance, or all the single victories
of gravity, or the kudzu vine,
most delicate of manias,
which has pressed its luck

this far this season.
It shines a gloating green.
Its edges darken with impatience, a kind of wind.
Nothing again will ever be this easy, lives
being snatched up like dropped stitches, the dry stalks of daylilies   
marking a stillness we can’t keep.
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On Death, Without Exaggeration by Wislawa Szymborska

It can't take a joke,
find a star, make a bridge.
It knows nothing about weaving, mining, farming,
building ships, or baking cakes.

In our planning for tomorrow,
it has the final word,
which is always beside the point.

It can't even get the things done
that are part of its trade:
dig a grave,
make a coffin,
clean up after itself.

Preoccupied with killing,
it does the job awkwardly,
without system or skill.
As though each of us were its first kill.

Oh, it has its triumphs,
but look at its countless defeats,
missed blows,
and repeat attempts!

Sometimes it isn't strong enough
to swat a fly from the air.
Many are the caterpillars
that have outcrawled it.

All those bulbs, pods,
tentacles, fins, tracheae,
nuptial plumage, and winter fur
show that it has fallen behind
with its halfhearted work.

Ill will won't help
and even our lending a hand with wars and coups d'etat
is so far not enough.

Hearts beat inside eggs.
Babies' skeletons grow.
Seeds, hard at work, sprout their first tiny pair of leaves
and sometimes even tall trees fall away.

Whoever claims that it's omnipotent
is himself living proof
that it's not.

There's no life
that couldn't be immortal
if only for a moment.

always arrives by that very moment too late.

In vain it tugs at the knob
of the invisible door.
As far as you've come
can't be undone.
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The Gardener by Rabindranath Tagore

Who are you, reader, reading my poems a hundred years hence?
I cannot send you one single flower from this wealth of the
spring, one single streak of gold from yonder clouds.
Open your doors and look abroad.
From your blossoming garden gather fragrant memories of the
vanished flowers of a hundred years before.
In the joy of your heart may you feel the living joy that sang
one spring morning, sending its glad voice across a hundred


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