Kyle Thompson

Kyle Thompson

Editor’s Note

Readers –


Welcome to Issue # 37 of Plume.

July: and sometimes it happens that we find ourselves in a friend’s cabin, say, or a B &B or small inn with time on our hands and an exceedingly small library at our disposal.  But: our hearts lift. Fled the tiny agonies of selection, quieted the purr of guilt that attends our choice should it not be up to our professed standards (always rehearsed, made with others in mind: “It’s trash, I know…” or “Beach reading…”). Now a different pleasure finds us: someone else (friend or anonymous collector) has decided our fate. And how much joy we locate in just this: to take up again, say, Robinson Crusoe or The Road to Wigan Pier or The Complete Robert Frost by necessity. This is the thought, anyway, that guides my selection of this issue’s “secret poem”; one I should hasten to add that does not meet, exactly, the criteria outlined above.  Yet I wonder how many of you would read this poem were it not in your line of vision, as it were, today.

And so:


The Whitsun Weddings


That Whitsun, I was late getting away:

Not till about

One-twenty on the sunlit Saturday

Did my three-quarters-empty train pull out,

All windows down, all cushions hot, all sense

Of being in a hurry gone. We ran

Behind the backs of houses, crossed a street

Of blinding windscreens, smelt the fish-dock; thence

The river’s level drifting breadth began,

Where sky and Lincolnshire and water meet.


All afternoon, through the tall heat that slept

For miles inland,

A slow and stopping curve southwards we kept.

Wide farms went by, short-shadowed cattle, and

Canals with floatings of industrial froth;

A hothouse flashed uniquely: hedges dipped

And rose: and now and then a smell of grass

Displaced the reek of buttoned carriage-cloth

Until the next town, new and nondescript,

Approached with acres of dismantled cars.


At first, I didn’t notice what a noise

The weddings made

Each station that we stopped at: sun destroys

The interest of what’s happening in the shade,

And down the long cool platforms whoops and skirls

I took for porters larking with the mails,

And went on reading. Once we started, though,

We passed them, grinning and pomaded, girls

In parodies of fashion, heels and veils,

All posed irresolutely, watching us go,


As if out on the end of an event

Waving goodbye

To something that survived it. Struck, I leant

More promptly out next time, more curiously,

And saw it all again in different terms:

The fathers with broad belts under their suits

And seamy foreheads; mothers loud and fat;

An uncle shouting smut; and then the perms,

The nylon gloves and jewellery-substitutes,

The lemons, mauves, and olive-ochres that


Marked off the girls unreally from the rest.

Yes, from cafés

And banquet-halls up yards, and bunting-dressed

Coach-party annexes, the wedding-days

Were coming to an end. All down the line

Fresh couples climbed aboard: the rest stood round;

The last confetti and advice were thrown,

And, as we moved, each face seemed to define

Just what it saw departing: children frowned

At something dull; fathers had never known


Success so huge and wholly farcical;

The women shared

The secret like a happy funeral;

While girls, gripping their handbags tighter, stared

At a religious wounding. Free at last,

And loaded with the sum of all they saw,

We hurried towards London, shuffling gouts of steam.

Now fields were building-plots, and poplars cast

Long shadows over major roads, and for

Some fifty minutes, that in time would seem


Just long enough to settle hats and say

I nearly died,

A dozen marriages got under way.

They watched the landscape, sitting side by side

—An Odeon went past, a cooling tower,

And someone running up to bowl—and none

Thought of the others they would never meet

Or how their lives would all contain this hour.

I thought of London spread out in the sun,

Its postal districts packed like squares of wheat:


There we were aimed. And as we raced across

Bright knots of rail

Past standing Pullmans, walls of blackened moss

Came close, and it was nearly done, this frail

Travelling coincidence; and what it held

Stood ready to be loosed with all the power

That being changed can give. We slowed again,

And as the tightened brakes took hold, there swelled

A sense of falling, like an arrow-shower

Sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain.


Philip Larkin, “The Whitsun Weddings” from Collected Poems (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2001)


A poem, I confess, that I have loved as long as I have loved poems. As there are poems out if not out of fashion, perhaps off the current radar, and you are thinking of your own half-forgotten loves just now, too?

But, again – to business. Brief, to be sure.

I think we are now — completely in a way — a journal:  we have a masthead, a staff. For those interested in such things the roster lurks beneath the ABOUT tag on the PLUME nav bar. To save you the trouble:


Daniel Lawless: Editor-in-Chief

Jason Cook: Managing Editor

Marc Vincenz: International Editor

Jonathan Penton: Publications Editor

Nancy Mitchell: Associate Editor for Special Features

Bryan Duffy: Assistant to the Editor

Jill Lynch: Assistant for marketing and Publicity

David Cudar: Assistant Editor for Book Reviews and Criticism


On tap in the fall: a reading in Los Angeles: Mark Irwin, Arthur Vogelsang, and Marci Vogel at Beyond Baroque.  Upcoming: Asheville, Chicago, and Paris. More information and additional readings to follow.

(Again: on the off chance that you, poets, are interested in reading at one of the above sites, or might want to organize a reading in your own neighborhood, please, again, email me at – we’ll make every effort to accommodate you, I promise.)

Clearly, certain of my promises mean little, however, as the following attests:

The Plume Anthology of Poetry 2013 is out! Should you be so moved, you can purchase a copy at our STORE on the PLUME Website or through our publishers at MadHat and at Amazon and the usual other sites. And this: several poets have told me of their plans to use the anthology in their poetry/creative writing classes and lo-res sessions: just saying.


Our cover art this month is Kyle Thompson. He began taking photographs at the age of nineteen after finding interest in nearby abandoned houses. His work is mostly composed of self-portraits, often taking place in empty forests and abandoned homes. His new book is Somewhere Else.

Next up, after this issue’s Featured Selection from James Richardson look for extended work Linda Pastan; Glenn Mott; Chris Kennedy; and newly aboard, Jim Daniels in collaboration with Charlee Brodsky; Tess Gallagher and Lawrence Matsuda; and Nin Andrews, with others just appearing on the horizon. (Here, too, again, let me add as always: those with projects that might be suitable for the Featured Selection please do contact us with your proposal at ).

Finally, New Work Received this month includes pieces from Amy Gerstler, Brad Richard, Charlie Smith, Jean-Paul Malpoix (translated by Jeanne Gilleland), Devin Johnston, Elaine Sexton, Erez Bitton (translated by Tsipi Keller), Jim Daniels/Carlee Brodsky, Garret Hongo, Friedrich Hölderlin (translated  by David Young), Jane Hirshfield, Jason Schneiderman, Larissa Shmailo, Sally Bliumis-Dunn, T. R. Hummer, and Thomas Lux.

As always, I do hope you enjoy the issue!


Daniel Lawless

Editor, PLUME

Poem of the Quotidian

Ruy Belo trans. by Alexis Levitin

Night falls so swiftly in this part of town

No one but you, our administrative head,

takes pleasure in such efficient service of the sun

Just a moment ago it seemed

properly housed and resident at the end of the street

You sir didn’t calculate all the daytime

that a carnival of light could offer everyone

I’ve never seen and I’ve been around

men washing their hands in the sunlight like today

housewives coming to fill with sun

great jars, jugs, basins, and other vessels

Never on so many feet

has the sun so humbly shone

It even drew one might say the children’s eyes

towards school and put new reflections

on the miserable windowpanes out back


Some would say the sun has gone too far

Some of the poor in this part of town

caught it on their knives, mixed it in with their bread

They ended up treating it like a neighbor

At this rate… It was true madness

The king of all stars turned accessible to everyone

he who normally greeted no one

Always the same indifferent

spectacle of light above our cares




we came we went we entered but we never saw

that incandescent constancy. Would anyone

dare to let a single ray

pierce through his life and illuminate his suffering?


But today the sun

died like anyone of us

The people here grew very sad

Never had night fallen so swiftly in this part of town




É tão depressa noite neste bairro

Nenhum outro porém senhor administrador

goza de tão eficiente serviço de sol

Ainda não há muito ele parecia

domiciliado e residente ao fim da rua

O senhor não calcula todo o dia

que festa de luz proporcionou a todos

Nunca vi e já tenho os meus anos

lavar a gente as mãos no sol como hoje

Donas de casa vieram encher de sol

cântaros alguidares e mais vasos domésticos

Nunca em tantos pés

assim humildemente brilhou

Orientou diz-se até os olhos das crianças

para a escola e pôs reflexos novos

nas míseras vidraças lá do fundo


Há quem diga que o sol foi longe demais

Algum dos pobres desta freguesia

apanhou-o na faca misturou-o no pão

Chegaram a tratá-lo por vizinho

Por este andar… Foi uma autêntica loucura

O astro-rei tornado acessível a todos

ele que ninguém habitualmente saudava

Sempre o mesmo indiferente

espectáculo de luz sobre os nossos cuidados

Íamos vínhamos entrávamos não víamos

aquela persistência rubra. Ousaria

alguém deixar um só daqueles raios

atravessar-lhe a vida iluminar-lhe as penas?


Mas hoje o sol

morreu como qualquer de nós

Ficou tão triste a gente destes sítios

Nunca foi tão depressa noite neste bairro




Ruy Belo, who died prematurely in 1978, published eleven collections of poetry, four collections of critical writings, and numerous translations of writers such as Jorge Luis Borges, Blaise Cendrars, Garcia Lorca, and Saint-Exupery. His work has appeared in over thirty anthologies in Portugal, as well as in collections published in France, Spain, Italy, Serbia, Germany, Sweden, Latvia, Bulgaria, Holland, Mexico, and, of course, Brazil. Recent translations of his work have appeared in or are about to appear in Catamaran, International Poetry Review, Metamorphosis, Per Contra, and Saranac Review.

Alexis Levitin’s translations have appeared in well over two hundred literary magazines, including American Poetry Review, Partisan Review, Grand Street, New Letters, Prairie Schooner, Kenyon Review, New Orleans Review and Catamaran. His thirty-four books include Clarice Lispector’s Soulstorm and Eugenio de Andrade’s Forbidden Words (both from New Directions). His most recent books are Salgado Maranhao’s Blood of the Sun (Milkweed Editions, 2012), Eugenio de Andrade’s The Art of Patience (Red Dragonfly Press, 2013), and Ana Minga’s Tobacco Dogs (Bitter Oleander Press, 2013).

Birds in the Night

Luis Cernuda trans. by Michael Smith

The French government, or was it the English government,
put a plaque
on that house of 8 Great College Street, Camden Town, London,
where in a room Rimbaud and Verlaine, a strange couple,
lived, drank, worked, fornicated,
for a few brief tormented weeks.

The inaugural act was doubtless attended by the ambassador and the mayor,
all those who were the enemies of Verlaine and Rimbaud
when they were alive.

The house is sad and poor, like the district,
with the sordid sadness that accompanies what is poor,
not the funereal sadness of what is rich but spiritless.
When evening falls, as in their time,
above the pavement, the air humid and grey, an organ-grinder
sounds, and the neighbours, returning from work,
some, the young, dance, the others go to the pub.

Short was the extraordinary friendship of Verlaine the drunkard
and Rimbaud the waif, quarreling at length,
but we can think that perhaps there was a good moment
for the two of them, at least if they remembered
that they had left behind, in one case an unbearable mother, in the other, a bored wife.
But freedom is not of this world, and the libertines,
breaking with everything, had to pay a high price.
Yes, they were there, the plaque says, behind the wall.

Prisoners of their fate: the impossible friendship, the bitterness
of the separation, then the scandal; and for one of them
the trial, prison for two years, thanks to their practices
which society and the law condemn, today at least; for that alone
to wander from one corner of the earth to another,
fleeing from our world and its renowned progress.

The silence of the one and the banal madness of the other
compensated them: Rimbaud rejected the hand that oppressed
his life; Verlaine kissed it, accepting his punishment.
One draws from his belt that gold he has earned; the other
wastes it on [absinthe] and women [prostitutes]. But both
always in doubt about the authorities, about the people
who get rich and come out on top on the work of others.

Then even the black prostitute was right to insult them;
today, since time has passed, as it passes in the world,
a life on the edge of everything, sodomy, drunkenness, corporal verses,
are not important to them, and France uses both names and both works
for the greater glory of France and its logical art.
Their acts and their steps are investigated, giving to the public
intimate details of their lives. No one is shocked now, or protests.

‘Verlaine? Yes, my friend, a satyr, a true satyr
when dealing with women; well the man was normal.
The same as you and I. Rimbaud? A sincere Catholic, as demonstrated?’

And bits of ‘Drunken Boat’ are recited and of the sonnet to ‘Vowels’.
But nothing of Verlaine’s is recited because it is not as fashionable
as that of the other, of which false texts in luxury editions are produced;
young poets of all countries speak a lot about him in their provinces.

Do the dead hear what the living say after them?
They hear nothing: that endless silence must be a relief
for those who lived for the word and died for it,
like Rimbaud and Verlaine. But the silence there does not prevent
this loathsome eulogistic farce. Once someone wished
that humanity had a single head so as to be able to cut it off.
Perhaps he was exaggerating: if it were only a handful, crush it.




El gobierno francés, ¿fue el gobierno inglés?, puso una lápida

En esa casa de 8 Great George Street, Camden own, Londres,

Adonde en una habitación Rimbaud y Verlaine, rara pareja,

Vivieron, bebieron, trabajaron, fornicaron,

Durante algunas breves semanas tormentosas.


Al acto inaugural asistieron sin duda embajador y alcalde,

Todos aquellos que fueran enemigos de Verlaine y Rimbaud cuando vivían.


La casa es triste y pobre, como el barrio,

Con la tristeza sórdida que va con lo que es pobre,

No la tristeza funeral de lo que es rico sin espírito.

Cuando la tarde cae, como en el tiempo de ellos,

Sobre su acera, húmedo y gris el aire, un organillo

Suena, y los vecinos, de vuelta del trabajo,

Bailan unos, los jóvenes, los otros van a la taberna.


Corta fue la amistad singular de Verlaine el borracho

Y de Rimbaud el golfo, querellándose largamente.

Mas podemos pensar que acaso su buen instante

Hubo para los dos, al menos si recordaba cada uno

Que dejaron atrás la madre inagauntable y la aburrida esposa.

Pero la libertad no es de este mundo, y los libertos,

En ruptura con todo, tuvieron que pagarla a precio alto.

Sí, estuvieron ahí, la lápida lo dice, tras el muro.


Presos de su destino: la amistad posible, la amargua

De la separación, el escándolo luego; y para éste

El proceso, la cárcel por dos años, gracias a sus costumbres

Que sociedad y la ley condenan, hoy al menos; para aquél a solas

Errar desde un rincón a otro de la tierra,

Huyendo a nuestro mundo y su progreso renombrado.


El silencio del uno y la locuacidad banal del otro

Se compensaron. Rimbaud rechazó la mano que oprimía

Su vida; Verlaine la besa, aceptando su castigo.

Uno arrastra en el cinto el oro que ha ganado; el otro

Lo malgasta en ejeno y mujerzuelas. Pero ambos

En entredicho siempre de las autoridades, de la gente

Que con trabajo ajeno se enriquece y triunfa.


Entonces hasta la negra postituta tenía derecho de insultarles;

Hoy, como el tiempo ha pasado, como pasa en el mundo,

Vida al margen de todo, sodomía, borrachera, versos escarnecidos,

Ya no importan en ellos, y Francia usa de ambos nombres y ambas obras

Para mayor gloria de Francia y su arte lógico.

Sus actos y sus pasos se investgan, dando al público

Detalles íntimos de sus vidas. Nadie se asusta ahora, ni protesta.


“¿Verlaine? Vaya, amigo mío, un sátiro, un verdaderos sátiro

Cuando de la mujer se trata; bien normal era el hombre,

Igual que usted y que yo. ¿Rimbaud? Católico sincero, como esta demonstrado.”


Y se recitan trozos del ‘Barco Ebrio’ y del soneto a las ‘Vocales’.

Mas de Verlaine no se recita nada porque no está de moda

Como el otro, del que se lanzan textos falsos en edición de lujo;

Poetas mozos de todos los países hablan mucho de él en sus provincias.


¿Oyen los muertos lo que los vivos dicen luego de ellos?

Ojalá nada oigan: ha de ser un alivio ese silencio interminable

Para aquellos que vivieron por la palabra y murieron por ella,

Como Rimbaud y Verlaine. Pero el silencio allá no evita

Acá la farsa elogiosa repugnante. Alguna vez deseó uno

Que la humanidad tuviese una sola cabeza, para así cortársela.

Tal vez exageraba: si fuera sólo un cucaracha, y aplastarla.


  • ‘Birds in the Night’ (the poem’s title in English) refers to the time spent by Rimbaud and Verlaine together in London.




Luis Cernuda (1902-1963) has come to be seen as the most influential poet of Spain’s Generation of 1927, exceeding even Lorca in terms of the poetic resources and ideas that he created for poets of later generations. Because of the Fascist victory in the Spanish Civil War, Cernuda went into exile from Spain in 1939 and lived in Scotland, England, the USA, and Mexico, where he joined several other Spanish poets in a small community in exile

Michael Smith has translated into English and published some of the most difficult and exhilarating poets in Spanish, including Federico García LorcaPablo NerudaFrancisco de Quevedo and Luis de Góngora. He has also translated Gerardo Diego‘s Manual de espumas, a Selected Poems of José Hierro and selections of the poems of Jiménez and Luis Cernuda, among others. In 2001 he received the European Academy Medal for his translations.  His own poetry has appeared in numerous anthologies of Irish poetry, including The Penguin Book of Contemporary Irish Poetry. Among his most recent books are The Purpose of the Gift: Selected Poems and Maldon and Other Translations (NWP/ Shearsman).In 2009 Shearsman has published his Collected Poems. With the Peruvian scholar Valentino Gianuzzi, he has translated and published (Shearsman Books) the complete poems of César Vallejo in four volumes. In 2009 he translated a selection of poems of the Spanish poet Juan Antonio Villacañas in collaboration with Beatriz VillacañasJuan Antonio Villacañas: Selected Poems (Shearsman Books).



Two Poems

Peter Cooley

RODIN, “ Hand with Small Torso, Bronze”

In Paris you can see his drawer of hands.

My poem is not about dismemberment.

I’m trying to understand his focus:

the hand, he said, could be the whole body

expressive as the face. This hand is Rodin’s,

modeled by his mold maker when he knew

death was in the next room, waiting, patient.


The torso of the woman in the palm

headless, legless, armless, a miniature

of all the women he had sought to own

by forming them—why this is  his death mask.


Other men have a form put to their skin–

as if eternity could have a shape.

Rodin chose this hand, his own illusion.



Rodin’s “ The Cathedral”

And when the hands give up their prayers to air—

hands which lie open, waiting for evening–

morning will answer, whether we hear or not.
Always there are these correspondences—

many nights, desperate, I have asked for sleep.

There wasn’t much more I could bargain for.


Like a small child, I promised to be good.

The gods understood. Yes, impossible.

Eons they’d asked humankind for bodies


they might dwell in, bodies flawed and mortal.

They knew hunger for ineluctables.

Last night, I asked to be reborn today.


Well, here I am. And how am I doing,

you, gods, who yesterday inspired me

to sit down and, against my will, to write?




Peter Cooley has published nine books of poetry, seven of them with Carnegie Mellon. His newest book is Night Bus to the Afterlife. He has had poems in New Letters, Southwest Review, Commonweal, The New Yorker, Ploughshares, Georgia Review, The Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, Shenandoah, Pleiades, Paris Review, and The Hudson Review.

Two Poems

Steven Cramer


My daughter sings in snow falling through the scent of red oak or ash, some of the flakes large enough to contain passages from Emily Dickinson’s letters.  I’m not close enough to identify the texts.  Just a few nouns or verbs—dew, fan, plash, honors—tongue touching on the teeth to sound the dentals, teeth on the bottom lip to form the fricatives, both lips pouting the plosives, the vowels vibrating in the cave of the mouth.  If I were Dickinson, my daughter’s song might be the tolling of a shipwrecked church bell; the gist of it, sudden as a bird rowing in, then swallowed by, the firmament.  The cold, snowing sky has just gone whiter.  Twenty, maybe twenty-five years left, unpolished stones in a glass.





Every time the Pope shooed the beggar from the entrance to the Sacre-Coeur, she slid back into place seconds later, because who is a pope to judge?   Even when he kicked her, dragged her away by her shawl, back she came, reliable as two sparrows playing tug of war with the heel of a baguette.

The one I call the Pope, I admit, was really a doorkeeper who aspired to be pope—who, ever since he was a boy, played Infallible with his mates and wore an ecclesiastical-looking collar and red running shoes.

The holier, more golden chambers of the church were under repair and off-limits.  Tiers of lit votive candles.   Hard to suppress an urge to give them cocktail umbrellas.  They shivered like crowds massed before the ticket office for the Catacombs, where kilometers of skulls, humeri, and femurs are stacked in cords, half the skulls turned toward you, half turned away.




Steven Cramer is the author of five poetry collections: Clangings (Sarabande Books, 2012), The Eye that Desires to Look Upward (1987), The World Book (1992), Dialogue for the Left and Right Hand (1997), and Goodbye to the Orchard (Sarabande, 2004), which won the 2005 Sheila Motton Prize from the New England Poetry Club and was named a 2005 Honor Book in Poetry by the Massachusetts Center for the Book.  Recipient of fellowships from the Massachusetts Artists Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, he directs the Low-Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at Lesley University in Cambridge.



Laura Kasischke

Suddenly, it’s over, and I hear!

And what I hear


is that stranger in the Carhart  jacket

who stopped at the side of the freeway and said,


“I got this for you, darlin’.  Just go stand

over there in that tall grass

with your baby while I change your flat.”


And I did, and he did, and forever after that…

And that’s how my life passed…


Told a little baby story.

Sang a little baby song


while the crows in the branches and the baby laughed

and the yellow butterflies in that tall grass—


and a stranger in a Carhart jacket, who might have passed

but stopped instead to change my flat, and said, “I


got this for you, Laura,” and knelt down:


And even better, I believe, that I

never really heard him until now.




Laura Kasischke is the recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, 2012. She has published eight novels, two of which have been made into feature films—The Life Before Her Eyes, and Suspicious River—and eight books of poetry. She has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as several Pushcart Prizes and numerous poetry awards. Her writing has appeared in Best American Poetry, The Kenyon Review, Harper’s, and The New Republic. She lives with her family in Chelsea, Michigan and is an Allan Seager Collegiate Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan.

Things I’ve Discovered in Hong Kong

Glenn Mott

Semantics: clue that Trappist Dairy Milk Drink is not milk—had I read the label—

use of a Christian cross to shill purity milk drink 十字牌牛奶.


Finished the last snacks from Sahadi’s and the last of my beloved’s baked goods.

I am now adrift in Cantonese.


And yet, who am I, pleasantly melancholy at Lunar New Year, compared to another

appalling forecast back in New York for  “Ice Pellets”?


The soul is a mechanical operation, the spark of life keeping the body in animation.

But also the essence of innumerable bowls of pho.


Think of all the fried chicken that went into making me.

A little schmaltz wouldn’t kill you either.


I have only ever had a propensity to change. To order within change.

And to change without order.


Can remember every drink of water I’ve ever taken. Wish I couldn’t.


Until the dullness settles in, I notice the hardware. Regard the plumbing.

The doorknob is a school.  It’s not much, but I’m new here.




Glenn Mott is managing editor of the Hearst newspaper syndicate, he has been a Fulbright Scholar at Tsinghua University in Beijing, and is author of the book Analects on a Chinese Screen. His reporting, poetry and translations have appeared in newspapers and periodicals in the United States and abroad, including PoeticheThe Miami Herald, The AtlanticThe Missouri Review, and Nieman Reports.

Fret Not

Molly Peacock

Opening the door for the first time since

your brain hemorrhaged, you looked so trim and well

(in black and white) you could almost convince

us both you were whole.  Your living room welled

with light, the wall above the couch arranged

with your watercolors.  “I hung them myself,”

you said proudly.  Almost nothing was changed

(except for the attendant, making herself

small by sitting silently.)  You’re witnessed now,

as you’ve witnessed me.  “May I have a painting?”

I’d been afraid to ask, but I did somehow.

“You really want one of my paintings?

Then come in here.”  Your bedroom?  But I was

your patient!  Before your brain bled.  Yes, was.


I followed you into the narrow room:

plain as plain.  Like a nun’s cell, the bed,

a single pallet, no headboard, a deep red

blanket instead of a coverlet.  Blood bloom.

Nuns fret not at their narrow convent’s room.

No one could climb into that cot but one.

A tall row of wooden cabinets.  One

you opened, and small paintings that had loomed

above my head (as I’d lain on your couch

and talked about, around, for, yet, because…and wept)

you brought out now from where you slept.

Your pallet.  Next to your palette.

Red blanket like a hemorrhage contained

after a time bomb exploded your brain.


The painting I chose was small: two lemons

against a blue background, one with a tip,

salmon-colored. An aureola? Lemons,

tart companions of the senses, the tip

of a world, mute on a piece of paper

folding out and beyond and inward and

onto the contours of the conquered land

of your mind, landmined.  We’re.  Were.

You laid the yellow watercolor down

on your bed, a camp cot for the wounded

in a tent pitched on a plot of scanty ground.

Fret not.  Fret you not.  Forget-me-not:  found.

So I lifted it up—then laid it in this frame

now on my wall.  Hourly I pass your name.




Widely anthologized, Molly Peacock’s poetry is included in The Oxford Book of American Poetry, as well as in leading literary journals such as the Times Literary Supplement and Poetry. She is the author of six volumes, including The Second Blush, and Cornucopia: New & Selected Poems both published by W.W. Norton and Company. Peacock’s latest book of nonfiction is both a biography of 18th-century collage artist Mary Delany and meditation on late-life creativity, The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life’s Work at 72, published by Bloomsbury USA & UK. Visit her on the web at

End in Itself

Allan Peterson

All veins point to a heart in depleted rivers, in branches,

the way I was shown at seven by Ruby’s sister to draw a tree

by running many lines back to an axis. Where they overlapped

a trunk grew from the annular darkness. A single trick usable

nowhere till now, an end in itself as the phrase grave disease

carries a prophecy and works as well with a pencil as a bird feather.

Sometimes I see the models to which that idea grew, or the trees

that grew to be like the idea in the freeze-dead orchards near Orlando.

Muscadine flocking back to an arm of barbed wire. Raw wool

combining into yarn on a spindle. In feeling, a coalescent neuralgia.

Self-referential needle users know to point inward with their poisons

whether or not they can name cephalic or saphenous any compass

to the shrub-sized heart, the home it goes back to ruffled with cocaine.

A hundred dollars hits the brain like sun after a cloud passes. The tree,

sun-filled, fills the whole orchard of the body, the single and the many

trees at once for maybe an hour afterwards when a moon takes its place,

then diminishes in flashlights, candles, clock dials, down every path

at once to the root of the pathologic-pathetic-scared-metabolic-rhyming

of the literal cripple so to speak.




Allan Peterson‘s most recent book is Fragile Acts (McSweeney’s Poetry Series), a finalist for both the 2013 National Book Critics Circle and Oregon Book Awards. Other books include: As Much As (Salmon Press); All the Lavish in Common (2005 Juniper Prize, University of Massachusetts) Anonymous Or (Defined Providence Prize 2001) and six chapbooks. His next book, Precarious, is forthcoming from 42 Miles Press in 2014.

Better Than Heaven

Charlie Smith

So many set asides, you say, intemperate

millionaires, those responsible for our welfare,

and individuals without malice

who goofed, the jail cells of our misery

damp with the morning chill, you say, done with, ruined,

the worst has happened, those we trusted, trimmers

at Zabar’s carving the lox, and the wisdom

of children, finished, comparisons invalid,

the stupefied escape artists

and ministerial candidates and the self-satisfied

disposed of,

the rescued returned to the floods

and fruit pickers, those who catch beauty

aflight on the sweet-smelling breeze, authentic characters

messed up, dead on the floor

of western motels, crapped out jinxed, lost

to the boulevards, you say, past saving,

charlatans and poseurs, the wise, minxes in damaged fur coats,

drapers and stevedores

watching cartoons reflected in project windows, even

this compared to that, you say, and metaphorically, antique cars

gathering dust in apartment house garages,

old ladies getting sick from their cats, drunks,

homeless women fat on starch, the confused,

young boys ready to die, those still able to capitalize

and producers of change, you say, erased,

gone over, discontinuous, possibly lost,

ruffians and finicky brutalizers

and brilliant talkers, the fake, well-wishers

and party boat captains, those out on bond, the repairmen

just now popping the lids on their coffees, you say,

sailors unmissed drowned, and wives

up for spousal abuse, unaccounted for

now, exhausted in little byways

out of the light, something, you say, better than heaven,

replacement crews undone, lovers hexed, something about this

tremendously appealing, you say, the quiet

in the abandoned mining camps,

the little trails across the desert that turn into artworks,

leads, possible meaning.



Charlie Smith’s most recent poetry collection is Selected Poems, out from Norton (Jump Soul: New and Selected Poems); others include Word Comix (W. W. Norton & Co., 2009);  Women of America (2004); Heroin and other poems (2000); Before and After (1995); and The Palms (1993). He has also published six novels, the latest of which Men In Miami Hotels (2013, Harper Perennial). He is a frequent contributor to national literary journals and periodicals, including Poetry, the Paris Review, and the New Yorker.

True West

Daniel Tobin

For Eamonn and Drucilla Wall


We return by foot from pre-plantation oaks,

The last un-hacked remnant Druid bowers

Extolled in guidebooks, haunt of the true west,

Having eschewed the angler’s holiday

On the lough, the off-road to The Quiet Man Cottage,

A sundown red as Maureen O’Hara’s hair.

You might be driving early along Route 40,

Then south toward Las Cruces, the Trinity Site,

With your kids in back for the big adventure

Deep into the vast magician’s coat of America.

Outside your car the ancient sea still rolls

Out of phase with its unearthly denizens,

The seabed now desert to your ranging eyes,

And Roswell’s haze extraterrestrial on the flats.

We walk to the village in the gloaming’s softness,

Cow patties on the laneway, a well-lit Spar

Where the road declines to a weathered cross,

It’s Ogham washed by centuries of rain

Into fossil whirls of ciphers, wind’s lost rubric

Known only to stone—the lichen’s Braille.

Or maybe you turn north on the Spanish Trail,

The old empire’s highway an interstate now

Through pinyon and pueblo, the casino lights

Blue-shifting off the shoulder as you drive

Above Tesuque for the Sangre de Cristos,

Their heights like a vista in Ford’s The Searchers.

Rest the night, friends, at some quiet rancho:

Poblanos, empanadas, and tequila anejo

Will set you easy for the journey ahead.

We’re at the pub now, my long love and I,

Pints in our hands, good grub on the Agha.

Above our numbered heads the wheels are turning,

Our wests swerving east to greet us on the road.

Let’s keep the locals solid for a thousand years.

Let’s meet sometime in the next far country.



Daniel Tobin is the author of five previous books of poems, Where the World is Made, Double Life, The Narrows, Second Things, and Belated Heavens (winner of the Massachusetts Book Award in Poetry, 2011), along with the critical studies Passage to the Center and Awake in America. He is the editor of The Book of Irish American Poetry from the Eighteenth Century to the Present, Light in Hand: The Selected Early Poems and Lola Ridge, and (with Pimone Triplett) Poet’s Work, Poet’s Play: Essays on the Practice and the Art.  His awards include the “Discovery” / The Nation Award, the Robert Penn Warren Award, the Robert Frost Fellowship, the Katharine Bakeless Nason Prize, and creative writing fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation.

Two Poems

Georg Trakl trans. by Jay Hopler

SOUL-DARK second version

At the forest’s edge: a dark deer. A hush.

The evening wind dies quietly on the hill.


The blackbird’s lament grows silent

And autumn’s docile flutes

Keep their peace within the reeds.


On a black cloud, poppy-drunk,

You float across the nodding pond,


The starry sky.

The sister’s moony voice calls forever

Through the sacred night.




Stille begegnet am Saum des Waldes

Ein dunkles Wild;

Am Hügel endet leise der Abendwind,


Verstummt die Klage der Amsel,

Und die sanften Flöten des Herbstes

Schweigen im Rohr.


Auf schwarzer Wolke

Befährst du trunken von Mohn

Den nächtigen Weiher,


Den Sternenhimmel.

Immer tönt der Schwester mondene Stimme

Durch die geistliche Nacht.



SLEEP second version

Curse you, dark poisons,

White sleep!

How bizarre this garden:

Twilit trees

Filled with serpents,

Moths, spiders, bats.

Stranger! Your shadow

Lost in the sunset:

A sinister brigand

On sorrow’s bounding main.

At night’s edge, doves flutter up

Over toppling cities

Of steel.



DER SCHLAF 2. Fassung

Verflucht ihr dunklen Gifte,

Weißer Schlaf!

Dieser höchst seltsame Garten

Dämmernder Bäume

Erfüllt von Schlangen, Nachtfaltern,

Spinnen, Fledermäusen.

Fremdling! Dein verlorner Schatten

Im Abendrot,

Ein finsterer Korsar

Im salzigen Meer der Trübsal.

Aufflattern weiße Vögel am Nachtsaum

Über stürzenden Städ

Von Stahl.



Georg Trakl (1887-1914) was born in Salzburg, Austria, and seems to have been suicidal almost from the moment of his birth.  As an extremely young child, he threw himself first in front of a galloping horse and then in front of a train.  When both of those suicide attempts failed, he tried drowning himself in a lake and was rescued only when someone noticed his hat floating away.  His adolescence and adulthood were marked by bouts of serious mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, an incestuous relationship with his sister (this has not yet been proven definitively), and near-constant failure.  His first book, Gedichte (Poems), was published in 1913.  He died a year later in a psychiatric hospital in Krakow where he was sent for observation after the human suffering occasioned by WWI, specifically the battle of Gródek, brought him to a suicidal mental collapse.  Whether his death was the result of suicide or was an accidental overdose of cocaine is still not known.  His second book, Sebastian im Traum (Sebastian in Dream), was published posthumously.


Jay Hopler’s poetry, essays, and translations have appeared most recently, or are forthcoming, in The Literary Review, The New Republic, and The New Yorker. Green Squall, his first book of poetry, won the 2005 Yale Series of Younger Poets Award. His most recent book is Before the Door of God: An Anthology of Devotional Poetry (edited with Kimberly Johnson, Yale University Press, 2013). The recipient of numerous honors including fellowships and awards from the Great Lakes Colleges Association, the Lannan Foundation, the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation, and the American Academy of Arts & Letters/the American Academy in Rome, he is Associate Professor of English at the University of South Florida.

Essay: Domestic

Chelsea Wagenaar
  1.   Brassiere

Unclasped; thin straps slipping

down my arms, I notice

the areolar bruise

my nipples have pressed

inside the empty cupola

of pale charmeuse.


I rub a thumb over the smudge.

But no smear—I’m duplicated,

indelible.  By day

you are a darkroom

developing the print

of me.  By night, my body

darkens even the drawers

that keep you.


  1.   Trumpet Vine

Orange thickly peppered

with terraces of ants:

slow, inscrutable ellipses.

What omission of yours—

what pause—do they

punctuate?  You ascend

the aged picket shafts

more faithfully than the sun,

gramophone heads

stoic, bleating their silent burn

from hue to hue. Omission?

No.  You, punctuated?

You punctuate—

brilliant gasps of ochre

between the small darks.


  1.   Piano

Damned thing.  All that tension

borne up for centuries, hidden

hammers in merciless suspension

over strings.  Eighty-eight unbidden


throats, dancerless stages.  Cold

shoulder, my lady of never-speaking-

unless-spoken-to-first, I should

have learned from you that touching


breaks even the most formidable

quiet.  I’ll come again, as one

who moves with hunger to table,

and ruin you into sound.



Chelsea Wagenaar is the winner of the 2013 Phillip Levine Prize.   Her poems have appeared recently in Mid-American Review, Sou’wester, and Gulf Coast.  She lives in Denton, Texas, with her husband, poet Mark Wagenaar.


James Richardson

By way of introduction to this month’s Featured Selection of new work on Vectors from James Richardson, an introductory essay from our Associate Editor for Special Features Nancy Mitchell, is followed by the work itself and some biographical material.


vectors covervectors cover


Over the past weeks I’ve returned to James Richardson’s VECTORS 4.1: A FEW THOUGHTS IN THE DARK and 4.2: ALL OF THE ABOVE, poems from his forthcoming collection, with the same obsessive frequency as when, decades ago, I first encountered Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.”  To the same degree I was then, I’ve been hell bent on sussing out just what makes Richardson’s poems so intriguing.  Alas, now as then, I have not penetrated this mystery, but the process and the briefest comparison between these two poems has led me to appreciate the particularly original genius at work in Richardson’s VECTORS 4.1 & 4.2.

Unlike Shakespeare’s rose, which by any other name would smell as sweet, with any other title neither Richardson’s nor Stevens’ poem would (or could) be the same poem.   Like inscribed, weight bearing arches, both titles announce the subject, dictate the poems’ formal architecture, and provide scaffolding from which the speaker alternately tracks the mind through the lens of an objective observer, then collapses into subjectivity when the lens contracts to the I.

However, Stevens had tangible, known construction materials at the ready-a blackbird and landscape. The poem’s subjecthow the context in which a “thing” is perceived changes a “thing,” and how, in turn a “thing” then changes the contextis announced by the title, and each of the thirteen “ways” is isolated in numbered stanzas, framed and arranged along a gallery wall like separate paintings in a thematic series.

Richardson, on the other hand, has, in a stunning imaginative leap, has created the materials of his poem from thin air; in the poems’ titles, Richardson employs vector(s)”—carrier from the noun form of the 19th century Latin verb vehere to carry— a term most frequently applied to components of motion in physics, math, medicine and computer software— to suggest that  thoughts of the human mind are not under its  control, but subject to immutable natural laws which, in vector waves, shift perspective alternately from objective to subjective. Richardson has performed the equivalent literary miracle of making the word flesh; against the “in the dark” landscape, thoughts are no longer the static fuzzing our attention or flickering like gnats at the periphery of waking conscious, but are transformed.

Dense with gravitas, sentient with magnitude and direction, these classical columns heave into view with priestly, omnipotent solemnity, like ghost ships or a divinely sculpted, solitary iceberg. Rather than float by like fleeting thoughts they move, however imperceptibly, with volition, intention, stately and white against a black sea, the white space of the page transmuted by the title’s “in the dark.” Other smaller, but no less potent vectors move in between the larger ones, but never in the wake of, or behind them.

Rather than the formal tone one might expect from these elegant structures, the anonymous, detached speaker—only begins to appear toward the end of the first VECTOR 4.1speaks softly, intimately, like the lover whose mouth speaks our thoughts even as we think them:

What’s the name for the color of leaves at night, a black you
can’t help seeing as green?


Wooed, we lie with this voice, in this dark where the tyranny of self-identity or measured time has no dominion; we are like the stars that don’t know what constellation they’re in, and begin to remember things as they are:

Hard to remember that night is not what the sky does, but
the shadow of the earth. The sun goes away, and a darkness
rises that was there all the time.

In the plush warm dark that was there all the time the lens of perception has expanded beyond the tight focus of the self.  Yet, Richardson, in tracking the idiosyncratic, characteristic movement of the Vector 4.1 recognizes what degree of focus and attention it takes to achieve this state of negative capability:


You need a thin film of dust and a surface it can slide on, say
the bare floor under the bed. Watch a long time, and here a
draft or there the soft concussions of your breath will
compress the dust along a front. Watch longer, and these
lines themselves collide, compressing further. That’s how
dustballs form or, on a larger scale, stars –


and suggests such required vigilance is beyond the natural propensity of human thought to sustain:

Difficult to imagine an eternal Yes vigilant enough to keep

every closet and drawer of the universe this sharply in focus.

Easier to feel someone is just forgetting to say No.


This admission triggers the movement of the fearful thought that lurking behind the dark velvet muzzle nuzzling us in the dark are sharp, glittering teeth, alert to the moment the self begins to lose it tenacious grip, ready to snatch us down into the void, into the infinite vastness of that which is not I. In panic and desperation the I launches its barbed particulars like a grappling hook into what it perceives to be the bedrock of the self identity, and bolts upright and sweating, fully back into the body, the my, the mine:

I can’t remember a thing about my little brother’s funeral,

except the tie I wore, still way back in my closet forty years

later. I dare not throw it away, but I won’t look at it because

it’s not black any more but transparent like the night.


In the pattern implicit in VECTORS 4.2: ALL OF THE ABOVE,  thoughts move to reflect and analyze all of the above  in VECTOR 4.1’s shift from objective perspective in the dark where we’re unplugged from our peripherals, back to the subjective I:


Take us away from our crowd and we see faces in cliffs, hear voices

on the wind, read the thoughts of animals, and feel watched by we

don’t know what. We’re unplugged from our peripherals, like the

newly blind who hallucinate because their brains are desperate to see.



Although Richardson suggests that our thoughts, in spite of our best efforts to control them via meditation, condemnation, medication etc., follow a natural and immutable trajectory, that does not comfort him or us; with the exception of a very small fraction of human existence we are unable to remain in a state of negative capability before we suffer the loneliness from being unplugged from our peripherals. Because this constitutional inability prevents us from full participation in the cosmic dance of life and—we just can’t win—we again suffer.


Spring, and the soil exhales like a pot whose lid has been
lifted The air itself has greened: sound is blurrier and slower,
blossoms send out waves of intoxicants. The woodchuck
knows exactly how long ago the fox passed, a leaf smells that
its neighbor is under attack by insects, from 300 feet up the
hawk spots the tenseness of a vole. No wonder we feel
suddenly less and more alone, like someone in a crowd who
doesn’t know any of the languages.


More than a fascinating observation of the movement of human thought as a natural phenomenon, Richardson’s poems are a poignant, profoundly moving and deeply empathetic lament.  It may very well be true, as Rilke, in the first of The Duino Elegies writes Yes the Springs had need of you…but alas, as moved as we may be by this revelation, we are constitutionally unable to sustain more than a fleeting response, or all but the briefest respite from never being able to not interpret roses and other things/that promise so much, in terms of a human future

Nancy Mitchell
30 June, 2014




Let there be light. Had he awakened, confused about where he was? Had he been sitting on a stone a long time, not quite realizing how dark it had gotten?


The stars don’t know which constellation they’re in.


Hard to remember that night is not what the sky does, but the shadow of the earth. The sun goes away, and a darkness rises that was there all the time.


You need a thin film of dust and a surface it can slide on, say the bare floor under the bed. Watch a long time, and here a draft or there the soft concussions of your breath will compress the dust along a front. Watch longer, and these lines themselves collide, compressing further. That’s how dustballs form or, on a larger scale, stars — moved, who knows, by the little winds of a sleeper turning on a mattress, or the cold fusions of
his dreams.


What the dust calls will is wind.


Difficult to imagine an eternal Yes vigilant enough to keep every closet and drawer of the universe this sharply in focus. Easier to feel someone is just forgetting to say No.


Bless the things so small there is no need to doubt them.


I can’t remember a thing about my little brother’s funeral, except the tie I wore, still way back in my closet forty years later. I dare not throw it away, but I won’t look at it because it’s not black any more but transparent like the night. Deep, deep in it there are very faint stars, and I’m afraid of what will happen if I stare long enough for them to come into focus.


On a winter night the stars are colder than the dark.


In the smallest hour I can hear it, the faint hiss I know is the tape of my life, but is it recording or playing?


What’s the name for the color of leaves at night, a black you can’t help seeing as green?






When the power goes off, the silence wakes me.


Take us away from our crowd and we see faces in cliffs, hear voices on the wind, read the thoughts of animals, and feel watched by we don’t know what. We’re unplugged from our peripherals, like the newly blind who hallucinate because their brains are desperate to see.


Silent or silenced?


Experience teaches that the world is a blaze in my head, pain hurts me most, only others die. The rest is Imagination.


Phone rings. The house has sprung a leak!


Spring, and the soil exhales like a pot whose lid has been lifted. The air itself has greened: sound is blurrier and slower, blossoms send out waves of intoxicants. The woodchuck knows exactly how long ago the fox passed, a leaf smells that its neighbor is under attack by insects, from 300 feet up the hawk spots the tenseness of a vole. No wonder we feel suddenly less and more alone, like someone in a crowd who doesn’t know any of the languages.


His lip’s pierced with a ring, last link in some invisible chain.


Faith is a kind of doubt…of everything else. And doubt….believes deeply it can do without believing.


Zeal: shark that swims hard lest it drown.


My resentment is a child who needs attention. I’m out of here, he says. Don’t let me go.


At last I break my chains, only to find that those I was chained to are more relieved than I am.


Rage, like infatuation, thrives on silly details.


All that time trying to do what they wanted, when even they weren’t quite sure what it was.


Even at 10000 feet, yellowjackets, and they are angry.


Silly to have such a strong lock when the door itself is so weak, and the window is weaker, and my head can’t keep anything out.


She thinks her frenzy is a victimless crime.


We should be reasonable is a feeling. Feeling is more genuine than thinking is a thought.


I’d listen to my conscience if I were sure it was really mine.


Anxiety hunched over, eating its hands.


They are our friends, or they slump next to us on the subway, or they are close-ups on the news: the sufferers. Next to them, we feel like innocents. Natural enough, but maybe it’s analogous to the old sentimentality about The Happy Poor: if we envy life’s victims for being realer than we are, will we also owe them, will we help them?


Realism is false when it cares a little too much that you think it’s real.


Empathy’s the human grid: a voltage surge, and we might shut down so as not to burn out, often least responsive to the troubles that are most like our own.


Pain knows you don’t really know. Over and over and over it says No you don’t, no you don’t.


On the Kelvin scale, which runs from Absolute Zero to a zillion degrees, we’re most comfortable way down at the chilly end: 293 degrees is room temperature. Only a little higher and water boils, molecules break, life becomes impossible. The universe is a cold place. Good thing!


More moving than someone weeping: someone trying not to.


Some are naked through their clothes, some never naked.


Suffering builds character? Or the fear that every touch will be a blow?


My pain has to be greater than yours, lest I owe you something.


Values fluctuate wildly, prices considerably, but change is given to the penny.


In heaven we will be known to the core and loved for exactly who we are. Yeah, that’s what I was afraid of.


Somehow it’s easier to believe people are better than I am than that they’re smarter.


There’s no one less rebellious: maybe I think I’m in power?


How messy and wrecked the house has gotten, I think, and start Spring Cleaning. There must have been a Winter Dirtying I didn’t notice, a blindness or lethargy that evolved to protect us from wasting energy during the hard months. But what leads to those much darker days when, maybe helped by a mirror or a sharp word, I look up and suddenly see how badly I’ve neglected everything in my life that really matters?


Evolution provided physical pain to keep us from damaging ourselves, sympathetic pain to keep us from damaging others. Don’t feel too good.


Self-criticism: superiority to the idiot I was a minute ago.


Sometimes I’m the only one in the loud bar not talking, a rock in the stream listening for the sound water makes hitting it and turning white.


Are these new storms, or has everything all together reached the age of falling down?


Not till I walk out of the sea of noise into the night do I know I’m drunk.




James Richardson‘s most recent books are By the Numbers: Poems and Aphorisms, which was a finalist for the 2010 National Book Award, Interglacial: New and Selected Poems and Aphorisms, a finalist for the 2004 National Book Critics Circle Award, and Vectors: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays (2001). His work appears in The New Yorker, Slate, Paris Review, Yale Review, Great American Prose Poems, Geary’s Guide to the World’s Great Aphorists, The Pushcart Prize and five recent volumes of The Best American Poetry. He is Professor of English and Creative Writing at Princeton University.

Nancy Mitchell, a Pushcart Prize 2012 recipient, is the author of two volumes of poetry, The Near Surround (Four Way Books, 2002) and Grief Hut, (Cervena Barva Press, 2009) and her poems have appeared in Agni, Poetry Daily, Salt Hill Journal, Great River Review, and are anthologized in Last Call by Sarabande Books.