Grace (Jake Adam York)
Because my grandmother made me
the breakfast her mother made her,
when I crack the eggs, pat the butter
on the toast, and remember the bacon
to cast iron, to fork, to plate, to tongue,
my great grandmother moves my hands
to whisk, to spatula, to biscuit ring,
and I move her hands too, making
her mess, so the syllable of batter
I’ll find tomorrow beneath the fridge
and the strew of salt and oil are all
memorials, like the pan-fried chicken
that whistles in the grease in the voice
of my best friend’s grandmother
like a midnight mockingbird,
and the smoke from the grill
is the smell of my father coming home
from the furnace and the tang
of vinegar and char is the smell
of Birmingham, the smell
of coming home, of history, redolent
as the salt of black-and-white film
when I unwrap the sandwich
from the wax-paper the wax-paper
crackling like the cold grass
along the Selma to Montgomery road,
like the foil that held
Medgar’s last meal, a square of tin
that is just the ghost of that barbecue
I can imagine to my tongue
when I stand at the pit with my brother
and think of all the hands and mouths
and breaths of air that sharpened
this flavor and handed it down to us,
I feel all those hands inside
my hands when it’s time to spread
the table linen or lift a coffin rail
and when the smoke billows from the pit
I think of my uncle, I think of my uncle
rising, not falling, when I raise
the buttermilk and the cornmeal to the light
before giving them to the skillet
and sometimes I say the recipe
to the air and sometimes I say his name
or her name or her name
and sometimes I just set the table
because meals are memorials
that teach us how to move,
history moves in us as we raise
our voices and then our glasses
to pour a little out for those
who poured out everything for us,
we pour ourselves for them,
so they can eat again.
How to Eat Alone (Daniel Halpern)
While it’s still light out
set the table for one:
a red linen tablecloth,
one white plate, a bowl
for the salad
and the proper silverware.
Take out a three-pound leg of lamb,
rub it with salt, pepper and cumin,
then push in two cloves
of garlic splinters.
Place it in a 325-degree oven
and set the timer for an hour.
Put freshly cut vegetables
into a pot with some herbs
and the crudest olive oil
you can find.
Heat on a low flame.
Clean the salad.
Be sure the dressing is made
with fresh dill, mustard
and the juice of hard lemons.
Open a bottle of good late harvest zinfandel
and let it breathe on the table.
Pour yourself a glass
of cold California chardonnay
and go to your study and read.
As the story unfolds
you will smell the lamb
and the vegetables.
This is the best part of the evening:
the food cooking, the armchair,
the book and bright flavor
of the chilled wine.
When the timer goes off
toss the salad
and prepare the vegetables
and the lamb. Bring them out
to the table. Light the candles
and pour the red wine
into your glass.
Before you begin to eat,
raise your glass in honor
The company is the best you’ll ever have.
“Some years there exists a wanting to escape…” (Claudia Rankine)
Some years there exists a wanting to escape—
you, floating above your certain ache—
still the ache coexists.
Call that the immanent you—
You are you even before you
grow into understanding you
are not anyone, worthless,
not worth you.
Even as your own weight insists
you are here, fighting off
the weight of nonexistence.
And still this life parts your lids, you see
you seeing your extending hand
as a falling wave—
I they he she we you turn
only to discover
to be alien to this place.
The patience is in the living. Time opens out to you.
The opening, between you and you, occupied,
zoned for an encounter,
given the histories of you and you—
And always, who is this you?
The start of you, each day,
a presence already—
Slipping down burying the you buried within. You are
everywhere and you are nowhere in the day.
The outside comes in—
Then you, hey you—
Overheard in the moonlight.
Overcome in the moonlight.
Soon you are sitting around, publicly listening, when you
hear this—what happens to you doesn’t belong to you,
only half concerns you He is speaking of the legionnaires
in Claire Denis’s film Beau Travail and you are pulled back
into the body of you receiving the nothing gaze—
The world out there insisting on this only half concerns
you. What happens to you doesn’t belong to you, only half
concerns you. It’s not yours. Not yours only.
And still a world begins its furious erasure—
Who do you think you are, saying I to me?
A body in the world drowns in it—
All our fevered history won’t instill insight,
won’t turn a body conscious,
won’t make that look
in the eyes say yes, though there is nothing
even as each moment is an answer.
Don’t say I if it means so little,
holds the little forming no one.
You are not sick, you are injured—
you ache for the rest of life.
How to care for the injured body,
the kind of body that can’t hold
the content it is living?
And where is the safest place when that place
must be someplace other than in the body?
Even now your voice entangles this mouth
whose words are here as pulse, strumming
shut out, shut in, shut up—
You cannot say—
A body translates its you—
you there, hey you
even as it loses the location of its mouth.
When you lay your body in the body
entered as if skin and bone were public places,
when you lay your body in the body
entered as if you’re the ground you walk on,
you know no memory should live
in these memories
becoming the body of you.
You slow all existence down with your call
detectable only as sky. The night’s yawn
absorbs you as you lie down at the wrong angle
to the sun ready already to let go of your hand.
Wait with me
though the waiting, wait up,
might take until nothing whatsoever was done.
To be left, not alone, the only wish—
to call you out, to call out you.
Who shouted, you? You
shouted you, you the murmur in the air, you sometimes
sounding like you, you sometimes saying you,
be no one but you first—
Nobody notices, only you’ve known,
you’re not sick, not crazy,
not angry, not sad—
It’s just this, you’re injured.
Everything shaded everything darkened everything
is the stripped is the struck—
is the trace
is the aftertaste.
I they he she we you were too concluded yesterday to
know whatever was done could also be done, was also
done, was never done—
The worst injury is feeling you don’t belong so much
Ode to love (Maria Mercedes Carranza)
On an afternoon you’ll never forget
he will come to your house and sit at the table.
Bit by bit he will have a place in every room,
on the walls and the furniture he will leave traces,
he will unmake the bed and make a hollow in the pillow.
The books in the bookcase, that precious texture of years
will take new places according to his taste and looks,
old photos will also change from here to there.
Other eyes will look at your customs,
your comings and goings between walls and embraces,
and everyday noises and odors will be different.
On one of these afternoons that you’ll never forget
he who unmade your house and inhabited your things
will go out through the door without saying goodbye.
You will have to begin redoing your house,
putting the furniture in its place, cleaning the walls
changing the lock, tearing up portraits,
sweeping everything to go on living.
When I Have Reached the Point of Suffocation (Gerald Stern)
When I have reached the point of suffocation,
then I go back to the railroad ties
and the mound of refuse.
Then I can have sorrow and repentance,
I can relax in the broken glass
and the old pile of chair legs;
I am brought back to my senses
and soothed a little.
It is really the only place I can go
The streets, the houses, the institutions,
and the voices that occupy them,
are too hard and ugly
for any happiness
and the big woods outside
too full of its own death—
I go to the stone wall,
and the dirty ashes,
and the old shoes,
and the daisies.
It takes years to learn how to look at the destruction
of beautiful things;
to learn how to leave the place
and how to make your own regeneration
out of nothing.
Mother Earth: Her Whales (Gary Snyder)
An owl winks in the shadows
A lizard lifts on tiptoe, breathing hard
Young male sparrow stretches up his neck,
big head, watching—
The grasses are working in the sun. Turn it green.
Turn it sweet. That we may eat.
Grow our meat.
Brazil says “sovereign use of Natural Resources”
Thirty thousand kinds of unknown plants.
The living actual people of the jungle
sold and tortured—
And a robot in a suit who peddles a delusion called “Brazil”
can speak for them?
The whales turn and glisten, plunge
and sound and rise again,
Hanging over subtly darkening deeps
Flowing like breathing planets
in the sparkling whorls of
And Japan quibbles for words on
what kinds of whales they can kill?
A once-great Buddhist nation
dribbles methyl mercury
in the sea.
Pere David’s Deer, the Elaphure,
Lived in the tule marshes of the Yellow River
Two thousand years ago—and lost its home to rice—
The forests of Lo-yang were logged and all the silt &
Sand flowed down, and gone, by 1200 AD—
Wild Geese hatched out in Siberia
head south over basins of the Yang, the Huang,
what we call “China”
On flyways they have used a million years.
Ah China, where are the tigers, the wild boars,
like the snows of yesteryear
Gone in a mist, a flash, and the dry hard ground
Is parking space for fifty thousand trucks.
IS man most precious of all things?
—then let us love him, and his brothers, all those
Fading living beings—
North America, Turtle Island, taken by invaders
who wage war around the world.
May ants, may abalone, otters, wolves and elk
Rise! and pull away their giving
from the robot nations.
Solidarity. The People.
Standing Tree People!
Flying Bird People!
Swimming Sea People!
Four-legged, two-legged people!
How can the head-heavy power-hungry politic scientist
Government two-world Capitalist-Imperialist
Third-world Communist paper-shuffling male
non-farmer jet-set bureaucrats
Speak for the green of the leaf? Speak for the soil?
(Ah Margaret Mead . . . do you sometimes dream of Samoa?)
The robots argue how to parcel out our Mother Earth
To last a little longer
like vultures flapping
near a dying doe.
“In yonder field a slain knight lies—
We’ll fly to him and eat his eyes
with a down
derry derry derry down down.”
An Owl winks in the shadow
A lizard lifts on tiptoe
The whales turn and glisten
Sound, and rise again
Flowing like breathing planets
In the sparkling whorls
Of living light.
Gate A-4 (Naomi Shihab Nye)
Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning
my flight had been delayed four hours, I heard an announcement:
“If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please
come to the gate immediately.”
Well—one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.
An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just
like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing. “Help,”
said the flight agent. “Talk to her. What is her problem? We
told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.”
I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke haltingly.
“Shu-dow-a, Shu-bid-uck Habibti? Stani schway, Min fadlick, Shu-bit-
se-wee?” The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly
used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled
entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the
next day. I said, “No, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just later, who is
picking you up? Let’s call him.”
We called her son, I spoke with him in English. I told him I would
stay with his mother till we got on the plane and ride next to
her. She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just
for the fun of it. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while
in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I
thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know
and let them chat with her? This all took up two hours.
She was laughing a lot by then. Telling of her life, patting my knee,
answering questions. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool
cookies—little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and
nuts—from her bag—and was offering them to all the women at the gate.
To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a
sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the
lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same powdered
sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.
And then the airline broke out free apple juice from huge coolers and two
little girls from our flight ran around serving it and they
were covered with powdered sugar, too. And I noticed my new best friend—
by now we were holding hands—had a potted plant poking out of her bag,
some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country tradi-
tion. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.
And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and I thought, This
is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that
gate—once the crying of confusion stopped—seemed apprehensive about
any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women, too.
This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.