who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
which is what I have been doing all day.
My God, It's Full of Stars
BY TRACY K. SMITH
We like to think of it as parallel to what we know,
Only bigger. One man against the authorities.
Or one man against a city of zombies. One man
Who is not, in fact, a man, sent to understand
The caravan of men now chasing him like red ants
Let loose down the pants of America. Man on the run.
Man with a ship to catch, a payload to drop,
This message going out to all of space. . . . Though
Maybe it’s more like life below the sea: silent,
Buoyant, bizarrely benign. Relics
Of an outmoded design. Some like to imagine
A cosmic mother watching through a spray of stars,
Mouthing yes, yes as we toddle toward the light,
Biting her lip if we teeter at some ledge. Longing
To sweep us to her breast, she hopes for the best
While the father storms through adjacent rooms
Ranting with the force of Kingdom Come,
Not caring anymore what might snap us in its jaw.
Sometimes, what I see is a library in a rural community.
All the tall shelves in the big open room. And the pencils
In a cup at Circulation, gnawed on by the entire population.
The books have lived here all along, belonging
For weeks at a time to one or another in the brief sequence
Of family names, speaking (at night mostly) to a face,
A pair of eyes. The most remarkable lies.
Charlton Heston is waiting to be let in. He asked once politely.
A second time with force from the diaphragm. The third time,
He did it like Moses: arms raised high, face an apocryphal white.
Shirt crisp, suit trim, he stoops a little coming in,
Then grows tall. He scans the room. He stands until I gesture,
Then he sits. Birds commence their evening chatter. Someone fires
Charcoals out below. He’ll take a whiskey if I have it. Water if I don’t.
I ask him to start from the beginning, but he goes only halfway back.
That was the future once, he says. Before the world went upside down.
Hero, survivor, God’s right hand man, I know he sees the blank
Surface of the moon where I see a language built from brick and bone.
He sits straight in his seat, takes a long, slow high-thespian breath,
Then lets it go. For all I know, I was the last true man on this earth. And:
May I smoke? The voices outside soften. Planes jet past heading off or back.
Someone cries that she does not want to go to bed. Footsteps overhead.
A fountain in the neighbor’s yard babbles to itself, and the night air
Lifts the sound indoors. It was another time, he says, picking up again.
We were pioneers. Will you fight to stay alive here, riding the earth
Toward God-knows-where? I think of Atlantis buried under ice, gone
One day from sight, the shore from which it rose now glacial and stark.
Our eyes adjust to the dark.
Perhaps the great error is believing we’re alone,
That the others have come and gone—a momentary blip—
When all along, space might be choc-full of traffic,
Bursting at the seams with energy we neither feel
Nor see, flush against us, living, dying, deciding,
Setting solid feet down on planets everywhere,
Bowing to the great stars that command, pitching stones
At whatever are their moons. They live wondering
If they are the only ones, knowing only the wish to know,
And the great black distance they—we—flicker in.
Maybe the dead know, their eyes widening at last,
Seeing the high beams of a million galaxies flick on
At twilight. Hearing the engines flare, the horns
Not letting up, the frenzy of being. I want to be
One notch below bedlam, like a radio without a dial.
Wide open, so everything floods in at once.
And sealed tight, so nothing escapes. Not even time,
Which should curl in on itself and loop around like smoke.
So that I might be sitting now beside my father
As he raises a lit match to the bowl of his pipe
For the first time in the winter of 1959.
In those last scenes of Kubrick’s 2001
When Dave is whisked into the center of space,
Which unfurls in an aurora of orgasmic light
Before opening wide, like a jungle orchid
For a love-struck bee, then goes liquid,
Paint-in-water, and then gauze wafting out and off,
Before, finally, the night tide, luminescent
And vague, swirls in, and on and on. . . .
In those last scenes, as he floats
Above Jupiter’s vast canyons and seas,
Over the lava strewn plains and mountains
Packed in ice, that whole time, he doesn’t blink.
In his little ship, blind to what he rides, whisked
Across the wide-screen of unparcelled time,
Who knows what blazes through his mind?
Is it still his life he moves through, or does
That end at the end of what he can name?
On set, it’s shot after shot till Kubrick is happy,
Then the costumes go back on their racks
And the great gleaming set goes black.
When my father worked on the Hubble Telescope, he said
They operated like surgeons: scrubbed and sheathed
In papery green, the room a clean cold, a bright white.
He’d read Larry Niven at home, and drink scotch on the rocks,
His eyes exhausted and pink. These were the Reagan years,
When we lived with our finger on The Button and struggled
To view our enemies as children. My father spent whole seasons
Bowing before the oracle-eye, hungry for what it would find.
His face lit-up whenever anyone asked, and his arms would rise
As if he were weightless, perfectly at ease in the never-ending
Night of space. On the ground, we tied postcards to balloons
For peace. Prince Charles married Lady Di. Rock Hudson died.
We learned new words for things. The decade changed.
The first few pictures came back blurred, and I felt ashamed
For all the cheerful engineers, my father and his tribe. The second time,
The optics jibed. We saw to the edge of all there is—
So brutal and alive it seemed to comprehend us back.
Submitted by Mychal T.
By Roald Dahl
The most important thing we've learned,
by Nikki Hyatt
A centurion brigade, the battlefield full
Familiar eyes glare at me, my secrets unearthed
Judgment and wrath are mine to drink
This cup, lined with poison, my brother’s gift.
Heavy beating, my heart stands still
My legs refuse to move, mouth parched
This army of defense, they scream against me,
Beckoning my allegiance, they scream my name
Fear of man, fear of God, - - the weights are set.
What must the lonely do, but to be lonely?
A world stands, mocking truth
And if our God is for us… what then?
The war ends, brigade returns to dust
“Weak” they whisper; “wrong” they mutter.
The reaping is about to begin
“Fool” they chant. This armor weighs me.
My grip slips, and my breathe leaves.
Where is my helper, mighty and strong?
His breathe, I do not hear; his whisper is lost…
Onward march…..one step, two step, three step, four…..
by Nikki Hyatt
Falling downward, I reached for you
No one’s there, no hand to hold onto—where did it go?
A dreary shade of gray fills my eyes as I hit the ground.
A once bright and beautiful sky I saw hidden behind a curtain of despair.
This reluctant cry…I know you’re still there
My eyes can’t see what’s beyond that drapery
Cold and lonely I lay, gazing at something I cannot see.
What is my faith worth if all I see is emptiness? My dreams shattered? Heart broken? Discontented?
My love is yours, but despair has become my only true friend….always at my side, always
greeting me, holding me tightly at night.
What I was, I am no more – my sorrow is too great.
I hear the victorious ones shout “Trust your God!” “Cling to Him”
“Seasons come and go, but He remains!”
My heart has failed me and my God – the result of a faithless root.
I am forever scarred by a scarlet A
It is better for me to have never breathed at all
Death, nonexistence is better than blasphemy
Where has my love, my hope, my joy gone? Dusting myself off- -I go to search again
This daunting trip through the eerie blackness is now my new mark of shame.
Submitted by Teresa L.
The Place Where We are Right
by Yehuda Amichai
From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.
The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.
But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.
by Robert Louis Stevenson
How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!
Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
Rivers and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside—
Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown—
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!
Submitted by Chris D.
by Brod Bagert (from his book Giant Children)
I love this little booger,
All shiny, green, and black.
You can hold it for a minute,
But I want my booger back.
It stays right where I put it,
It sure knows how to stick.
And if it gets too dry...?
It just needs a little lick.
I can hold it on my finger,
I can flick it in the air,
I can stick it underneath a desk,
Or underneath a chair.
I can make a ball and roll it
Just to see which way it goes.
I love this booger anywhere...
Except inside my nose.
Submitted by Jen L.
by Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated from German by Albert Ernest Flemming
His tired gaze — from passing endless bars —
has turned into a vacant stare which nothing holds.
To him there seem to be a thousand bars,
and out beyond these bars exists no world.
His supple gait, the smoothness of strong strides
that gently turn in ever smaller circles
perform a dance of strength, centered deep within
a will, stunned, but untamed, indomitable.
But sometimes the curtains of his eyelids part,
the pupils of his eyes dilate as images
of past encounters enter while through his limbs
a tension strains in silence
only to cease to be, to die within his heart.
Submitted by Jonathan W.
I’m Nobody! Who are you?
by Emily Dickinson
I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!
How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!
by Charles Wright
His sorrow hangs like a heart in the star-flowered boundary tree.
It mirrors the endless wind.
He feeds on the lunar differences and flies up at the dawn.
When he lies down, the waters will lie down with him,
And all that walks and all that stands still, and sleep through the thunder.
It’s for him that the willow bleeds.
Look for him high in the flat black of the northern Pacific sky,
Released in his suit of lights,
lifted and laid clear.
by Langston Hughes
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
Submitted by Jamie N.
Submitted by Shazia W.
Submitted by Dan R.
Paul Laurence Dunbar
I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
when the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
and the river flows like a stream of glass;
when the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
and the faint perfume from its chalice steals –
I know what the caged bird feels!
I know why the caged bird beats his wing
till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
for he must fly back to his perch and cling
when he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
and a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
and they pulse again with a keener sting –
I know why he beats his wing!
I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
when his wing is bruised and his bosom sore –
when he beats his bars and he would be free;
it is not a carol of joy or glee,
but a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
but a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings –
I know why the caged bird sings!
I am--yet what I am, none cares or knows;
my friends forsake me like a memory lost:
I am the self-consumer of my woes--
they rise and vanish in oblivion’s host
like shadows in love-frenzied stifled throes--
and yet I am and live—like vapors tossed
Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
into the living sea of waking dreams
where there is neither sense of life or joys,
but the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
Even the dearest that I love the best
are strange--nay, rather, stranger than the rest.
I long for scenes where man hath never trod,
a place where woman never smiled or wept,
there to abide with my Creator, God,
and sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,
untroubling and untroubled where I lie,
the grass below--above, the vaulted sky.
We Wear the Mask
Paul Laurence Dunbar
We wear the mask that grins and lies,
it hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,
this debt we pay to human guile;
with torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
and mouth with myriad subtleties.
Why should the world be overwise,
in counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us while
we wear the mask.
We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
to Thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
beneath our feet, and long the mile;
but let the world dream otherwise--
we wear the mask.
With our first breath we let out a cry
With our last breath we let go and die
At birth they cheer because we’re born
At death they cry, they weep, they mourn
At birth we’re laid on mother’s breast
At death, in graves, we’re laid to rest
At birth they give us a name of our own
At death they engrave that name on a stone
At birth they cheer, they smile, they laugh
At death they write our epitaph
We’re born, we breathe, we grow, we age
We play our part upon life’s stage
The lights go out; the curtain’s drawn
The play is done; the life is gone
And then while in the ground we’re laid
They eulogize the role we played
They may speak well and may applaud--
We’re still and silent in the sod
From first cry to last gasp of breath
From the joy of birth to the jolt of death
From the rest in the womb till the rest in sod
We breathe, we live by the grace of God
The sun sinks in the west; my heart sinks in my soul.
The day is nearly done. The day has taken its toll.
The moon is half full – half empty is my heart.
The dusk gives in to dark - my dark rips me apart.
The stars hide away as if loath to see my form,
safe behind thick clouds of a looming thunderstorm.
It’s darker still out there and darker still within.
The clock ticks on to midnight, but my cries drown out its din.
And in the blackest hour, in the cold and dead of night,
my black and cold and deadened soul gropes blindly for some light.
And as the world lays down and sleeps, my soul lays down to die,
and with one final fading glimpse looks up into the sky.
The sky is darkest now, and I am cold as death.
Before I lay me down to sleep and take a final breath,
before the end has come and I accept defeat,
I take one final look towards where the earth and heaven meet:
And there, just like the miracle of sight to blinded eyes,
light escapes, and beauty explodes and paints the eastern skies.
My soul escapes the darkness; a new day has begun,
shining with the beauty of the coming of the sun.