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And Now, Some Poetry

A collection of recent poems by alumni
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How Long It Takes
Seth Abramson ’98

Your Yahoo! group receives your message. A cash deposit at an ATM clears. A laser treatment for cellulite achieves results. A DS1 communication is detected by planetary receivers. Moonlight reaches Earth. Your MCAT scores are sent through THx to an institutional recipient. A bounced email appears in your in-box.

Changes to your CloudFlare zone push out. Your nail polish dries. Participants in a SurveyMonkey survey receive their invitation. A spider finishes spinning its web. Your Viagra kicks in. Your Cialis kicks in.

Your SSL installation concludes. Hormone uptake from your removed Nuva Ring ceases. Your LinkedIn ad is approved. The chao in your Sonic Adventure 2 game evolves. Your dog’s Frontline application begins killing fleas. Consumed food is incorporated into your breast milk.

Your ejaculated sperm fertilizes a female egg. An online bill payment reaches your biller. Your webpage is listed as “protected” under the Protected Pages list in the DMCA Protection Portal. Your receive a badge for being especially helpful to users of the Meta Stack Exchange.

DNS propagation completes. Nicotine leaves your bloodstream after the cessation of your smoking habit. Your diflucan kicks in. Your muscles begin recovery after a prolonged and strenuous workout. A check deposit at an ATM clears. Google Places updates newly verified listings, business names, addresses, phone numbers, website URLs, descriptions, pin marker moves, and categories.  Corrections to your FAFSA are processed. A turkey thaws. A small canyon is formed. Stripe payments are transferred to your bank account. The quick of your dog’s nail recedes after a trimming of the tip. A Hepatitis B virus, lacking a human host, becomes inert. Google Places updates your photos and videos.

Your breast milk dries up after the cessation of breast-feeding. A database of cell phone towers is updated. Your Fiverr payment clears. A bird egg hatches. Google Places updates your duplicate and merged listings. Soft tissue heals after a tooth extraction. Your approved student loan is disbursed. Marijuana leaves your bloodstream. Your Amazon Visa rewards card points get credited. A credit transaction is reported to a credit reporting agency. A credit card payment is reported to a credit reporting agency. You begin to ovulate after removing your Nuva Ring.

The tomatoes you planted are ready to be harvested. A corporate merger goes through. A black hole consumes an object that originated at a point in space a hundred million miles distant. Your cat gives birth to a new litter. Your Hepatitis B completes its incubation period. An African child whose education and nourishment you sponsor receives your letter. Your divorce becomes final. Retinoids begin beneficially affecting the quality of your skin. You finish healing from your dental implant procedure. A hen begins laying eggs. A medical debt is sent to collection.

The IRS approves an organization’s 501(c)(3) status. Plastic photodegrades. The period for cashing in EE savings bonds begins. Your damaged credit progresses to “fair,” and you receive an unsecured credit card in the mail.

Epilepsy becomes intractable. HIV develops into AIDS. A genetically modified food product passes governmental safety tests and appears in stores nationwide.

Secondary-progressive Multiple Sclerosis develops.

An animal fossilizes.

Plastic biodegrades.

 

Statement of concept: “How Long It Takes” comprises the first 75 results of a Google search for the phrase “How long does it take for.” The average duration reported for each phenomenon was used to order the sentences (shortest span to longest). Search biases include search date (May 30, 2014) and the search being conducted from the author’s home PC.

"How Long It Takes" appears in Metamericana (BlazeVOX, 2015).

 

Why I Decided to Become a Shipping Container
Seth Abramson ’98

We are difficult to obtain
and expensive to ship. Our price ranges
from $2,500 to $4,000.
You can easily construct a building
with the same amount of square footage—
just as water-tight
          and structurally sound—
using traditional construction methods.

It just won’t weigh as much.

We provide extremely secure storage
that requires a blowtorch or dynamite
           to break into—
plus, we’re too heavy to walk off with.

Want to lift me? Watch your fingers, love.

Rust is the only natural predator
for a shipping container, so don’t scrimp
when you paint me. I’m a metal monster
that becomes an oven or a freezer
depending upon the outside temperature,
so if you want to live inside me,
good insulation and ventilation is a must.

The real bonus to a shipping container
is the new green phrase adaptive reuse.
Our trade deficit with the rest of the world
is causing containers like me
to pile up. So if you’re going to use one,
stay true to the form: don’t cover me up
with other building materials.

Please—just show me for what I am.

 

Statement of concept: “Why I Decided to Become a Shipping Container” is part lyric, part found poem. The latter elements can be found here: http://www.azcontainers.com/10-things-consider-using-storage-containers-your-project.

"Why I Decided to Become a Shipping Container" appears in Golden Age (BlazeVOX, 2017).

 

A Year in New England
Susan Barba ’97

It takes muscle to fillet the bluefish
with an old kitchen knife and the bluefish feels
nothing. The cotton fibers of a t-shirt drink
the indigo except in spectral rings where the cloth
is bound with rubber bands and will not dye.
Dipped in navy, this day, and the deck planks gray
with dots of red from the bluefish blood.
Clams from the pond in an orange metal bowl.

*

Walking after work, the words recede,
only codes of movement, stepping aside and passing,
and being passed. Returning home the air holding
its breath, the light a Russian Wanderer’s,
After a Rainfall, uninhabited, yet alive.
A backdrop for the staging of itself.
Yellow coldness, puddles in the mud.
The brush of winter waiting for the sky to dry.

*

Sunrise and sea smoke curling off the water.
Eight am the cannon blast, its echo congruent
with clouds escaping from the cooling towers.
Last night we saw the rings of Saturn, fused by distance
into one wide white band circling the star. A tiny icon
like a lunula, drawn near to earth. And soon the harbor frozen,
the tide a feathered surface, buoys bound and bells held fast.
Channels cut by coast guard for the ferries thick with birds.

*

This morning when I woke I felt alive,
a feeling slow and sure as snowdrops. “When the sap begins to flow,”
Thoreau wrote in April, “our diseases become more violent.
It is now advancing toward summer apace, and we seem to be reserved
to taste its sweetness, but to perform what great deeds?
Do we detect the reason why we also did not die?”

 

From Fair Sun by Susan Barba. Copyright (c) 2017 by Susan Barba. Reprinted by permission of David R. Godine, Publisher.

 

Marathon
Susan Barba ’97

Only the moon over Soldier's Field Road sees us depart,
quiet until the sun apocalyptic above the hospital
jars us into words at river's bend, electric pink
feedback feathering the water, mercury rising.
Last time I saw the sunrise I gave birth. Only the fittest
they've said should run and you're among them. Human
technicolor snakes and schoolbuses perambulate
the park and idly limber in preparation to go west
while in the garden an old man bends his knees and pushes air
with just his hands, slow as spring. The swan boats
out of hibernation sway, chained to the dock,
and a gray-skirted sneakered lady speedwalks through it all.
One day I'll wake this early of my own accord
and imagine where I'll go and meet me there.

 

From Fair Sun by Susan Barba. Copyright (c) 2017 by Susan Barba. Reprinted by permission of David R. Godine, Publisher.

 

The Wedding at Cana
Hannah Fries ’04

i.

Little it matters, drunk as we are,
when the grape-red seep
overtakes the water—
so sweet, so full to the brim,
the passed bottle, our hearts, our shoes
sloshing as we dance.

ii.

Paper birds my sisters fold
with their certain fingers, sharpening
beaks, creasing and
stretching each wing
to the position of flight:
hung with string, they stir
with a puff of laughter.

iii.

Should I grieve my solitude?
Imagine my body
like a rising crescent,
its singular thought
a clean, bright arc.

iv.

The gathered flowers
lift their fiery faces.
Even the music turns
deep garnet
like the backs of our tongues,
and we sing.

v.

Imagine the curve of my body asleep
beside another. Edges
draw in—exhalations
in the silk night air—
a silver oxbow,
contained.

vi.

Children refuse to be tired,
twirling, cheeks like poppies—
in their wake, birds
flutter, flames flicker.

vii.

That the first miracle should be
one of abundance, overflow,
glasses filled and filled—yes, open
wide the door, call in
the outside stranger.
Wind here. Wine.
Something to make us quiver.

 

From Little Terrarium (Hedgerow Books, 2016).

 

Recipe for Resurrection
Hannah Fries ’04

Just add water
from the River Jordan,
from the Mississippi,
from the rock’s dry mouth.
Turn wine into water
and drink it.
Look up from the road-killed hawk
to its mirror, circling.
Add buzzard breath,
worm casting, cicada skin.
Sing the doxology backward.
Collect sap weeping
from ice-broke boughs—
turn water into sugar
and drink it.
Just add snake skin,
starfish arm, dung beetle.
Cut the nets, throw
back the fish.
Go back to Galilee.
Bottle the fog from the valley bottom
before it lifts.
Drink it.
Follow the honey bee
to the body of the lion.
Forgive, forgive, forgive.

 

From Little Terrarium (Hedgerow Books, 2016).

 

Scrolls of the Living Night (Excerpt)
Benjamin Kwakye ’90

It started as a sporadic sweep, incessant
but hushed, a tune for dirges, a song for joyful
incantations in the threats of night, a constant
presence with multiple meanings, spurting hopeful

but spurious precursors of rainfall, segueing
through darkened sky-cushions to acceleration
of bellowing wind journeying through the graying
air. Then, metamorphic brilliance—transformation

from slow benign gallop to full sprint. The lightning
cuddled sky bore its lush clouds, wrapped dark envelopes
around pallid grays to shatter with frightening
blazes the sky’s flood-doors, extinguishing all hopes

of sun-usurpation. Rather, intermittent
exclamations of thunder rending prayerful
skies prevailed in choral volubility, lent
voice to the large, globose fragments in masterful

sheet lashing of the suppliant grounds.  In retreat,
many cowered, contemplating apocalypse.
Stanchions loosened, leaves flew, and dogs barked at the threat
of drowning promise.  But the brothers would eclipse

the fear of the Second Flood, with their derring-do.
Within the belly of the storm, two bodies moved
their loin-clad silhouetted masses of flesh through
the fiery watery sheets and, when thunder shoved

the air, they gyrated their naked torsos in
conversation with the storm, voice of the heavens
and voices of bodies joined in creating din
and silence in a deep paradox that evens

differences between mortals and eternals;
paradoxes in motion—a body so sow
corpulent it seemed to jiggle porcine entrails
with each dance step and the other brother so low

in flab that each rain-lash seemed a promise to cast
its limbs into eternal courts of death.  Breaching  
far cordoned heights, the length of one body reached past
clouds, while the other one appeared to be crouching

with ants.  Though it was not the optical tension
that swooned the storm, but the choreographic delight
of their spirit beings in physical expression,
the illuminating ovation of the light 

from thunder’s bedfellow, ignited the wet air
with long flaming torch, its flickering tongues of light
licking tree and space but leaving unharmed the pair
of human dancers in its courtyard.  From right

to left, the storm was a blanket of water as
impenetrable as the mind of death, except
the twins slicing its mystery in what now was
affirmation of life, the dangers of death kept

at bay by the mortals who were also spirits.
When the parched rain puked its last watery bead and
bequeathed its remnant of wetness in little spits
on the bodies of the brothers, the local land

was abuzz with the triumphant dance of the twins
through the pre-apocalypse, the daring embrace
and conquering of agents of death, through the dins
of thunders and outbursts of lightning, and their grace.

 

Excerpt from Scrolls of the Living Night (Cissus World Press, 2015).

 

Advice to My Daughter at Fourteen
in the Aftermath of the First Full Moon

James P. Lenfestey ’66

Men will never understand you.
You are too deep for them,
too rich.

They will stand in front of you
for hours
with nothing to say.

Then they will say it,
and it will be nothing.

Understand that males, for all their power
and all their mind and all their wit,
are awash in awe.
It laps at their ankles
like waves breaking on a beach.

Yes, you can count on them to protect you
when bats wake you in the night
and you scream and scream and scream.
But it is best to count on yourself,
even in the matter of bats.

Hitting them with a broom
and carrying them out to the garden
with their broken wings and stunned,
high pitched bleating,
is a nasty business.
But somebody has to do it.
Don't let him be the only one to learn
that the bat that fills the echoing halls
of your nightmares
barely fills the palm of your hand.
Like a hummingbird, it is practically weightless.

Now that you are a woman, you can learn the truth:
Nobody likes to kill bats.

And men, huge and blue-eyed sailors in your dreams,
are practically weightless in the palm of your hand.

 

From A Marriage Book: 50 years of Poems From a Marriage, forthcoming Dec. 1, 2017, Milkweed Editions, originally published in Rosebud #28, 2003.  

 

Poetry and Birdsong
James P. Lenfestey ’66

Poetry and birdsong – who understands either one?
Like a mad dream they wake us up!
Melodies fallen from a high branch,
mutterings from a dark cave of cedar.
In the velvet suspicion of first light,
before the children wake and the dawn bell clangs,
ears open to these mysterious sounds,
and you weep for your life, its inexplicable joy.

 

From Seeking the Cave: A Pilgrimage to Cold Mountain, by James P. Lenfestey, Milkweed Editions, © 2014.  Used by permission of the author.

 

 

I Am Karl Marx
Jen Levitt ’04

In the world there are many people
I don’t know most of them
Sometimes the ones I do know say to me 
You should style your hair like this 
or Why don’t you get a drink from that bar over there
I say thank you for the advice
& I may go for a drink at that bar
even though I am tired
from standing in front of teenagers all day
on a chair looking down at them
pretending to be Marx pretending they are the masses
I ask What would I say to you, proletarians, if I were Marx?
They say Capitalism is tyranny! Down with the bourgeoisie!
They are correct so I yell at them to rise up
in my best German accent
& with a white beard made of copy paper
Later I will ride home on the train
at eye-level with the gray buildings
& feeling like I sometimes do
Empiricism cannot help me
nor psychoanalysis nor meditation
It is difficult not knowing how to be in the world
which is different than not knowing
who you are, but close

 

“I Am Karl Marx” from The Off-Season ©2016 by Jen Levitt. Appears with permission of Four Way Books.

 

Sometimes, Gender
Jen Levitt ’04

Girls are quick to turn sour
like milk or lemons. Boys grow antlers.
At recess in the cold, I scuffed the edges
of both circles, played team sports
& the piano. Sometimes gender
needs a new winter coat, or a blowtorch
& homemade mixtape. We ate Twizzlers
at Titanic, taped Leo to our doors.
I watched the wallpaper peel, figured
action was overrated. In order of importance
I saved my Day-Glo diary & Latin books,
while boy bands bloomed like anthills
on my mother’s lawn. I wanted to be
popular, then smart, then someone’s
favorite, instead got a laptop & back-page
editorial in the yearbook. I wrote Action
is impractical if the war is faceless.
I had a crush on every girl who smoked
in the gymnasium basement. At night
every star looked like a pearl, but close up
each one was faithless, close up my body
ruthless. I cried when my best friend
got a real boyfriend, the water polo captain.
Sex was temporary, tenuous. Our tenth-
grade history teacher—we called him Heath—
was born Heather. We didn’t know
until later. Imperceptible the difference
between phenotype & Photoshop, pronouns
& antecedents, my body, its fixed uses.

 

“Sometimes, Gender” from The Off-Season ©2016 by Jen Levitt. Appears with permission of Four Way Books.

 

A Game in Late August
Alfred Nicol ’78

Seeded last, our boys expect defeat.
Ninety-five degrees. No shade at all.
It’s a bad mix: long odds, the brutal heat...
The umpire’s here and ready, though. Play ball.

Number 8 bends down to tie his cleats.
He’s not afraid of a line drive his way,
as are his parents, quiet in their seats.
His brother joined the Army yesterday.

One little cloud in all the glaring sky,
not even drifting, sticks and hangs up there
like gauze over a cut. And a pop fly
just past the fielder’s outstretched glove lands fair.

Another error. The cicadas’ sound
grows louder as our pitcher comes unglued.
The catcher walks out slowly to the mound.
I guess he speaks of hope and fortitude.

The inning just won’t end. They bat around.
Time backs up and idles overhead.
The boy in left is kneeling on the ground.
A change is made. The pitcher’s arm is dead.

The new guy walks the next two, then a third,
and there’s a portent in the air, a vibe
that says the unavoidable’s occurred:
some kid just wished the wish, betrayed the tribe—

he didn’t keep the faith, he snuffed the fire,
he left the narrow path and caused the fall—
admitting to the one taboo desire:
that summer not be endless after all.

The words, once spoken, cannot be recanted;
the field turns reddish-brown. There and then
the sorcery’s complete, the wish is granted.
The game looks more like work; the boys, like men.

And still there are the innings left to play.
The mercy rule does not apply, and one
can’t simply toss the glove and walk away,
give up his turn at bat. It isn’t done.

Behind the backstop there’s a garden hose
the players use to soak their heads. They’re down
five runs. Wherever optimism goes
it’s gone. The on-deck hitter acts the clown—

he pulls a length of hose up through his crotch,
lets fly a mighty, arcing, god-like piss.
The count is full. The diehards stand to watch
our last faint hope swing from the heels and miss.

 

From Animal Psalms (Able Muse Press, 2016); first appeared in The Hopkins Review.

 

Genius Is Only Good for What It's Good For
Alfred Nicol ’78

                       Stocks in the South Sea Company climbed to
                       1,000 British pounds before falling to nothing
                       in 1720. A massive amount of money was lost.

The stiff who breaks his back to make ends meet
believes if he were smarter he'd be rich.
He'd climb out of his rut and find his niche.
More brains would put him in the driver's seat;
soon he'd be getting places on The Street—
going for broke would go without a hitch.
He'd toss the T-shirt printed "Life's a Bitch."
He'd wear the one declaring "Life is Sweet!"

Sir Isaac Newton, though, found out too late
that he was bright enough "to calculate
the motions of celestial spheres, but not
the madness of the people." He too bought
shares in the soaring South Sea Company,
ignoring what he knew of gravity.

 

From Animal Psalms (Able Muse Press, 2016).

 

Shearwater
Rachel Richardson ’01

You were given feet but had never touched
them to earth. You were given the sea
and you fed upon it for months.

So when your head crowned, ashen
with loss of blood from the cord
wound tight around your neck,

and when they cut you from me,
and you were silent, and the tide in me
receded, I remembered the shearwaters

following the ship—the slow sweep
of them riding the wind’s current.
The stretch of them, hovering,

cruciform, shearing the air the way an envelope
slides back into a box of letters, making
its narrow space. I had watched

from the stern for hours their trailing:
as if stillness itself drifted toward me.
I thought it was my life.

Then someone lifted you up,
and there was a sound,
and they laid you on me, breathing.

 

"Shearwater" from Hundred-Year Wave.  Copyright © 2016 by Rachel Richardson.  Reprinted by permission of Carnegie Mellon University Press.

 

Transmission
Rachel Richardson ’01

There was a girl who heard it happen:
Amelia Earhart calling
on the radio, she and her navigator
alternately cursing and defining their position
by latitude, as best they could read it
in the bellowing wind, and by what
they could surmise of their rate per hour,
last land they’d seen. Stay with me, someone,
and the girl wrote each word
in her composition book, kept the channel
tuned, hunched to the receiver
when static overtook the line.
Why do I think of her?
The coast guard laughed at her father
holding out the schoolgirl scrawl
and sent him home ashamed. A lost woman
is a lost woman, he told her, and the sea
is dark and wide.

 

"Transmission" from Hundred-Year Wave.  Copyright © 2016 by Rachel Richardson.  Reprinted by permission of Carnegie Mellon University Press.

 

Song
Charif Shanahan Adv’10

I wait each night for a self.
I say the mist, I say the strange
tumble of leaves, I say a motor
in the distance, but I mean
a self and a self and a self.
A small cold wind
coils and uncoils in the corner
of every room. A vagrant.
In the dream
I gather my life in bundles
and stand at the edge of a field
of snow. It is a field I know
but have never seen. It is
nowhere and always new:
What about the lives
I might have lived?
As who? And who
will be accountable
for this regret I see
no way to avoid? A core,
or a husk, I need to learn
not how to speak, but from where.
Do you understand? I say
name, but I mean a conduit
from me to me, I mean a net,
I mean an awning of stars.

 

From Into Each Room We Enter without Knowing (Southern Illinois University Press, 2017); first appeared in The Baffler.

 

Gnawa Boy, Marrakesh, 1968
Charif Shanahan Adv’10

The maker has marked another boy to die:
his thin body between two sheets,
black legs jutting out onto the stone floor,
the tips of his toenails translucent as an eye.
Gray clumps of skin, powder-light,
like dust on the curve of his unwashed heel
and the face, swollen, expanding like a lung.
At its center, the sheet lifts and curves:
his body’s strangeness, even there.
One palm faces down to show the black
surface of hand, the other facing up
white as his desert’s sky.
                                      As if underwater,
he passes from that room into the blue
porcelain silence of the hall, where the light-
skinned women have gathered in waiting:
no song of final parting, no wailing
ripped holy from their throats:
the women do not walk into the sun,
they hide their bodies from it
(those pale wrists, those pale temples):
they do not walk the streets,
they do not clutch their own bodies,
they do not hit themselves in grief—

[The Gnawa are a black people indigenous to West and North Africa.]

From Into Each Room We Enter without Knowing (Southern Illinois University Press, 2017); first appeared in New Republic.

 

Erasure
Arne Weingart ’69

The branch, when I
pry it up out of the ice

on the patio because
I mean to let it dry and

set it on fire for its
negligible quantum of heat,

leaves a foliate negative
that melts and fades,

the only image of itself
it will have ever surrendered,

like leaf prints
on a sidewalk or

indecipherable graffiti on
the previously never-noticed walls.

Absence, being infinite, is
what sticks, what enthralls.

The sun itself
will have to count on

the memory of
surviving stars when

approximately eight billion years
from approximately now

it has its last day
and falls into the always

night, those sister stars
who knew their little brother

when he was obnoxiously
hot, unmercifully bright.

Memory is what we have
until memory fades away.

 

“Erasure” reprinted from Solstice Literary Magazine, selected by Richard Blanco for Honorable Mention for the Stephen Dunn Poetry Prize (2016).

 

Recursion
Arne Weingart ’69

All the best unskipped smooth flat round stones
have already been skipped by the early morning

walkers or else peed on ecstatically
by their dogs, creating needless difficulty

in the search for perfect rocks to fling back
in the general direction of Chicago.

You can teach someone to skip stones as easily
as you can teach writing poetry,

both requiring an insatiable appetite
for failure. Like many other recondite

disciplines – Chinese calligraphy, stiff egg whites,
sexual pleasure – it’s all in the wrist.

For all its breadth and weight, the lake apparently
needs us to deliver its mineral children for further

pedagogy. All its rocks still have
something to learn about roundedness, about

eternity. Stones may never dance
and poems may never float, but every teacher knows

that year after year what may not be learned
must all the same be taught.

 

“Recursion” reprinted from Levitation for Agnostics (New American Press, 2015); first appeared in Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, selected by T.R. Hummer as Winner of the Sow’s Ear Poetry Prize (2013).

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