Tag Archives: modern poetry

Poetry: Light Makes Motion

Naked boy makes light like
mosquito, like

key drunk and the door.
I name a ghost for him.

I don’t care – all boys end.
Light goes, popped story like

wanting any him pushed, sucked
flat mosquito, to door.

I name the ghosts for them. Light
goes, breaking out like

wound-touch, like
school child, like

boy become naked can door.

Light goes.
Naked boy crawls shadow to bed.

His name says he will have
greater fortunes than this.

Sound for ghost goes

boy swallows mosquito, like

boy I kissed once, boy
who swallows his name.


boy kiss drunk and the noraebang

song loud as junk food and light
light sour stomach humming light

crystal-spun light

anyone turned on,
turned off.

My name says I will have
greater ghosts than this.

-Kat Dixon, Kenning Journal

Poetry: Whale

In every way they come to us, we weigh them in pieces.
At dinner by the shore my sister and I pretend

to pretend we are friends
not shamed by growing up. The whales

are swimming in the cove, and all year
this has been happening—they die and wash ashore

like secrets the kids jab with pointed sticks.
First a great balloon, swelling with each day’s heat,

a smell the wind doesn’t wash away—
weeks in, the skin frays as cooling wax breaks

from a slate. My sister and I are in a cage made of ribs
that we built for each other, we are

in childhood’s oiled tent. Sometimes in our minds
we balance on the whale, feel with our toes

the grooves, the loosing of cells, the melting
inside as the methane grows. The mass of it

even scientists can’t determine.
On the whale we are little again—

she snaps a toy we shared, and I press my palm
over her nose, seal off its edges

and count to five. For five seconds
on the television, biologists weigh bricks

of animal, calculate the weight
of blood lost in the death. Always

I have carried that moment, the power
of releasing my hand, of knowing I could choose my memory.

Eventually the whale becomes
what the mind is: a body threatening to burst.

-Kasey Erin Phifer-Byrne, Word Riot

It’s not the bed that’s a boat

It’s not the bed that’s a boat

but sleep. On a rumple of waves, two           loosed canoes.

Soon I’ll find you
in your wooden ribs.

I’ll tie a rope. I’ll climb on.

-Corinna McClanahan Schroeder in Cellpoems

Ready Regret

Gorgeous poem at Rattle today –

She used the stadium. I would have
chosen the bridge. We’re not even

Division One. Our tailgate crowds
are mostly enthusiastic about beer.

Sunlight in the trees. Sunlight
in the trees. I thought these

feelings would be blonder,
quieter, like that virus

that doesn’t kill you but kills in you
what tells you to wake up.

All the good and bad souls who
size me up judge a different woman

than the one you used to know:
two-room apartment with a view of cold

as imagined by lack of snow,
nut and honey cookies from the baker

for three weeks only to entice the spring
and later year-round because we can’t wait

for anything anymore so we forget what
the sweetness was supposed to mean.

-Lisa Olstein, Rattle

The Book of Lamps, being a psalm-book

Came across this exquisite poem on Cellpoems and had to post it. From poet Jeffrey Pethybridge – “The Book of Lamps, being a psalm-book” is part of a book-length sequence entitled “Striven, The Bright Treatise,” which was written in the wake of my brother’s suicide at the Golden Gate Bridge in the winter of 2007. This excerpt from “The Book of Lamps” represents a fourth of the full poem; in its entirety, the poem is composed of 128 stanzas with each quarter attaining––as in the interrelated movements of symphonic structure––its own shape and theme.


Drug-tired, at a loss, above the lucid waves.


Palms rested on the railing (like anyone
looking out at the Pacific sun-set).


Palms pressed against the railing, the      last
solid thing held, the limit touched—
drug-tired from the chronic drag of days.


Palms open to the light-
ness in letting go: liberty, relief—
but also plummeting and irrevocable;
the waves, unsparing.


Palms pressed flat up
against the wailing wall
in your gut, ulcerous,
pocked by guilt, shame—
secret pains in being.


Palms open and upturned,
good little supplicants,
what is their (secret) prayer?—
what is open to praise?


Candor?—the grace of accuracy
to say what happened? Facts
merely disclosed by the Angel
of the Police Report?


The right note to elicit
briny-air?—or that thick beach-chill
along the skin at dusk? The nouns
to summon it.


The fall is four seconds long, the body
reaches a speed upwards of—as physics
describes the case.


(The truth is I know the truth is
made through work: lucid, unsparing).

Read the rest at Cellpoems


Nearing Lazarus’ Tomb

He’d seen it all. Swathes of nothingness
spun into stars, the slapping of the first fin onto land,
and now these creatures, by far the cleverest
and the saddest—though listing it that way
felt faulty, as if all happenings unfurled inch by inch
instead of blooming in one cacophony,
the apple crumpling just outside the city walls.

And it wasn’t even an apple, or fig,
or pomegranate glinting with infernal seeds,
though he’d accommodate their legends,
accept provisional truths, the same way they worked
with the earth un-sphered and stilled
in leaf-thin sketch.
To overlook
imprecision in the premises, concede
to the limits of both flesh and paper,
was what it meant to translate, as to love.
Which struck him as strange pottery:
roll everything that’s been into a coil
and score it with each day; cram self into cage
of clay and bone; daub their closed eyes in slip
and wait for it to flake off to new sight. It seemed to take
what they called a lifetime.

But they didn’t have that, not right here,
beside the village known as House-of-Misery
whose people rent their clothes. Before he even spoke
Mary’s tears were falling warm onto his feet,
carving clear trails through the coat of dust.

If you had been here. He stood
enveloped in the sound of all their moans,
entangled in her locks of dampening hair.
If you had been here. All grief’s audacity
pitched in her splintering voice, she raised her head
to look at him, and in her water-darkened eyes
he who’d seen all things felt this:
pain’s veil dividing now from everything
that is not-now. And he began to weep.

-Laura Wang, Christian Century

The Light Keeper

A night without ships. Foghorns called into walled cloud, and you

still alive, drawn to the light as if it were a fire kept by monks,

darkness once crusted with stars, but now death-dark as you sail inward.

Through wild gorse and sea wrack, through heather and torn wool

you ran, pulling me by the hand, so I might see this for once in my life:

the spin and spin of light, the whirring of it, light in search of the lost,

there since the era of fire, era of candles and hollow-wick lamps,

whale oil and solid wick, colza and lard, kerosene and carbide,

the signal fires lighted on this perilous coast in the Tower of Hook.

You say to me stay awake, be like the lensmaker who died with his

lungs full of glass, be the yew in blossom when bees swarm, be

their amber cathedral and even the ghosts of Cistercians will be kind to you.

In a certain light as after rain, in pearled clouds or the water beyond,

seen or sensed water, sea or lake, you would stop still and gaze out

for a long time. Also when fireflies opened and closed in the pines,

and a star appeared, our only heaven. You taught me to live like this.

That after death it would be as it was before we were born. Nothing

to be afraid. Nothing but happiness as unbearable as the dread

from which it comes. Go toward the light always, be without ships.

-Carolyn Forche, Santa Clara Review, also published in The New Yorker

I Love You

Early on, I noticed that you always say it
to each of your children
as you are getting off the phone with them
just as you never fail to say it
to me whenever we arrive at the end of a call.

It’s all new to this only child
I never heard my parents say it,
at least not on such a regular basis,
nor did it ever occur to me to miss it.
To say I love you pretty much every day

would have seemed strangely obvious,
like saying I’m looking at you
when you are standing there looking at someone.
If my parents had started saying it
a lot, I would have started to worry about them.

O course, I always like hearing it from you.
That is never a cause for concern,
The problem is I now find myself saying it back
if only because just saying good-bye
then hanging up would make me seem discourteous.

But like Bartleby, I would prefer not to
say it so often, would prefer instead to save it
for special occasions, like shouting it out as I leaped
into the red mouth of the volcano
with you standing helplessly on the smoking rim,

or while we are desperately clasping hands
before our plane plunges in the Gulf of Mexico,
which are only two of the examples I had in mind,
But enough, as it turns out, to make me
want to say it to you right now.

and what better place than in the final couplet
of a poem where, as every student know, it really counts.

-Billy Collins

Yes & No

Yes to the wooden giraffe airmailed from Arizona

with a note from your mother-in-law saying no more

excuses to sleep unprotected by your spirit animal,

but no to a new kind of insomnia. Yes to most -philias

not in the dictionary, like car washes in the rain

and bakeries on fire, but no no no to looking at old photos

with a bottle of Maker’s. Yes to your wife drinking

beer in the shower, but don’t hop in and join her,

let her have this moment beautifully wet and alone,

you’re here in the kitchen sautéing spinach and garlic

if she needs you. No to speed limit signs graffitied

but yes to climbing the overpass at night to tell the world

exactly the year that you loved her

Read the rest at H_NGN_M

This poem by Justin Bigos rocked my world and will rock yours.

He Lives in an Ark and Dreams

My grandfather’s afraid of fortune and sails the world
In his handkerchief
He waves to the bottles in the sea
And reads their messages
The trenches are overflowing
It’s hard to stay positive
My grandfather’s afraid of the sky
His red kite rests on a cenotaph
My grandfather’s afraid of silence
He cradles the sound of crows
My grandfather’s afraid
Of saying goodbye
-Gabby Dodd-Terrell, age 12, Rattle
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