Helen of Troy Does Countertop Dancing – Margaret Atwood

The world is full of women
who’d tell me I should be ashamed of myself
if they had the chance. Quit dancing.
Get some self-respect
and a day job.
Right. And minimum wage,
and varicose veins, just standing
in one place for eight hours
behind a glass counter
bundled up to the neck, instead of
naked as a meat sandwich.
Selling gloves, or something.
Instead of what I do sell.
You have to have talent
to peddle a thing so nebulous
and without material form.
Exploited, they’d say. Yes, any way
you cut it, but I’ve a choice
of how, and I’ll take the money.

I do give value.
Like preachers, I sell vision,
like perfume ads, desire
or its facsimile. Like jokes
or war, it’s all in the timing.
I sell men back their worse suspicions:
that everything’s for sale,
and piecemeal. They gaze at me and see
a chain-saw murder just before it happens,
when thigh, ass, inkblot, crevice, tit, and nipple
are still connected.
Such hatred leaps in them,
my beery worshipers! That, or a bleary
hopeless love. Seeing the rows of heads
and upturned eyes, imploring
but ready to snap at my ankles,
I understand floods and earthquakes, and the urge
to step on ants. I keep the beat,
and dance for them because
they can’t. The music smells like foxes,
crisp as heated metal
searing the nostrils
or humid as August, hazy and languorous
as a looted city the day after,
when all the rape’s been done
already, and the killing,
and the survivors wander around
looking for garbage
to eat, and there’s only a bleak exhaustion.
Speaking of which, it’s the smiling
tires me out the most.
This, and the pretence
that I can’t hear them.
And I can’t, because I’m after all
a foreigner to them.
The speech here is all warty gutturals,
obvious as a slab of ham,
but I come from the province of the gods
where meanings are lilting and oblique.
I don’t let on to everyone,
but lean close, and I’ll whisper:
My mother was raped by a holy swan.
You believe that? You can take me out to dinner.
That’s what we tell all the husbands.
There sure are a lot of dangerous birds around.

Not that anyone here
but you would understand.
The rest of them would like to watch me
and feel nothing. Reduce me to components
as in a clock factory or abattoir.
Crush out the mystery.
Wall me up alive
in my own body.
They’d like to see through me,
but nothing is more opaque
than absolute transparency.
Look–my feet don’t hit the marble!
Like breath or a balloon, I’m rising,
I hover six inches in the air
in my blazing swan-egg of light.
You think I’m not a goddess?
Try me.
This is a torch song.
Touch me and you’ll burn. 

Telemachus – Ocean Vuong

Like any good son, I pull my father out
of the water, drag him by his hair

through white sand, his knuckles carving a trail
the waves rush in to erase. Because the city

beyond the shore is no longer
where we left it. Because the bombed

cathedral is now a cathedral
of trees. I kneel beside him to show how far

I might sink. Do you know who I am,
Ba? But the answer never comes. The answer

is the bullet hole in his back, brimming
with seawater. He is so still I think

he could be anyone’s father, found
the way a green bottle might appear

at a boy’s feet containing a year
he has never touched. I touch

his ears. No use. I turn him
over. To face it. The cathedral

in his sea-black eyes. The face
not mine – but one I will wear

to kiss all my lovers good-night:
the way I seal my father’s lips

with my own & begin
the faithful work of drowning.

Ekphrastifilia – Matt Rasmussen

Your little elbow
nudges the air

as the raindrops
line up and wait

to fall. I forget
who I was before

our windows floated
away revealing

our drawn-over
selves. Your shadow

kites above us
and whatever we say

forever hovers.
A tornado touches

gently down, black
lightning ignites

a butterfly’s skull.
Your fingers grip

the triggers of long
stemmed flowers

beneath the sky’s
television of rain

broadcasting two
smiling clouds.

Are they us? I ask.
They’re just clouds,

you say, then cut
yourself out.

Visiting San Francisco, Vijay Seshadri

I wanted to curl up

in the comfortable cosmic melancholy of my past,

in the sadness of my past being passed.

I wanted to tour the museum of my antiquities

and look at the sarcophagi there.

I wanted to wallow like a water buffalo in the cool,

sagacious mud of my past,

so I wrote you and said I’d be in town and could we meet.

But you think my past is your present.

You wouldn’t relent, you wouldn’t agree

to dinner or a cup of coffee or even a bag of peanuts

on a bench in North Beach.

You didn’t want to curl up or tour or wallow with me.

You’re still mad, long after the days

have turned into decades, about the ways I let you down.

The four hundred thousand ways.

Maybe I would be, too.

But people have done worse to me.

I don’t think I’m being grotesque when I tell you

I’ve been flayed and slayed and force-fed anguish.

I’ve been a human cataract

plunging through a noose and going to pieces on the rocks.

I’ve been a seagull tethered to Alcatraz.

What can I say, what more can I say, how much more

vulnerable can I be, to persuade you

now that I’ve persuaded myself?

Why can’t you just let it go?

Well, at least I’m in San Francisco.

San Francisco, where the homeless are most at home—

crouching over their tucker bags under your pollarded trees—

because your beauty is as free to them

as to the domiciled in their

dead-bolt domiciles, your beauty is as free to

the innocent as to the guilty.

The fog has burned off.

In a cheap and windy room on Russian Hill

a man on the run unwraps the bandages

swaddling his new face, his reconstructed face,

and looks in the mirror and sees

the face of Humphrey Bogart. Only here

could such a thing happen.

It was really always you, San Francisco,

time won’t ever darken my love for you,

San Francisco.

The Ode on A Grecian Urn – Patricia Lockwood

Is worth any number of old ladies.
A grandmother hung from a cliff
like a tense moment in an action
movie and the Ode, speaking itself
with its hand on one heart, steadfastly
refused to save her, in fact it did that thing
where it ground each finger out with
a motorcycle boot and then ate
its cigarette for emphasis, whooping;

some old-ass bitch was in pussy church
when the Öde, now spelling itself
with an umlaut, swung its urn
at the back of her head, really clocking her;

till the violets in her church hat grew
from the floor and won a third-place
prize for consciousness;

the Ode is pushing nanas off bridges,
detonating them with dynamite,
tying them to railroad tracks with
squeaky young rope, pouring big glugs
into them out of the skull-and-crossbones
bottle, the Ode is checking
its pocketwatch, which points always
to death-to-old-ladies o’clock,
it is shrieking ugh you’re like one
hundred and your breath smells
exactly like horse medicine
ho, the Ode is blasting holes in them,
is laying them out in the potpourri
aisle, is stabbing them with those icicles
they always said were dangerous,
the Ode means ill to all
of them, the Ode is worth any number    …

and the worst is I believe it. The worst is I will
become one, without having written anything like
the Ode on a Grecian Urn, and sit in long rows
along with my kind, till there the Ode comes striding
toward me, my necessary death at the ready,
my pulse like black grapes at its fingertips,
saying, “Fear not, it will be fast, the forgetting
of great poems will fly through you in bullets”;

beauty is truth, and truth    …
but already I am losing it,
all I know is that the world is falling away,
and you won’t believe what it is wearing,
the ridiculous pantsuit of me, a old lady,
crumpled hopelessly at the crotch,
a flower valiant in its little butthole
— all the vital syllables are being erased —
its space-age fabric now seen for what it is:
an embarrassment, my name is turning
into Edna, Myrtle, Dorcas, my descendants
find my peppermints disgusting,

the urn is approaching to scatter me
over a landscape that is heaven on earth,
and in the feet of the poem I am running
— in mad pursuit, and struggle to escape —
chased as if I am worth one million,
Pearl, Opal, Ruby, Coral,
until I am caught by the feeble arm,

and because it is true I am telling
the Ode: you stood in me like a spine,
put poppies behind my eyes,
just the fact of you, that he took
one raw spring to set you down
instead of going out to tip heifers,
tweak noses, or sexually harass
huge curvy vases, you were for me
too, though they would trade me
in all my Beulahs, have lined me up
to enter that land in my turn, you let me
memorize your most satiny parts
and repeat them in hospital waiting rooms,
first to myself, and then almost out loud,
mine, mine, the world’s, all mine,
something to say in the face of tall sickness
as I quietly try to unwrap hard candies,
as I tug down tissues from my sleeve,
because it is true I am telling you, Ode,
that I had a throat and you boiled in it,

and the Ode is murmuring almost gently,
“But do you like my ending?
Some people don’t like my ending,”
I don’t, I never did, I thought it was
so overwrought,
though now that I’m here myself why not
if it has to be this way
then better
put a bright red cough on all that white

Hubble Photographs: After Sappho – Adrienne Rich

It should be the most desired sight of all

the person with whom you hope to live and die

walking into a room, turning to look at you, sight for sight

Should be yet I say there is something

more desirable: the ex-stasis of galaxies

so out from us there’s no vocabulary

but mathematics and optics

equations letting sight pierce through time

into liberations, lacerations of light and dust

exposed like a body’s cavity, violet green livid and venous, gorgeous

—beyond good and evil as ever stained into dream

beyond remorse, disillusion, fear of death

or life, rage

for order, rage for destruction

beyond this love which stirs

the air every time she walks into the room

These impersonae, however we call them

won’t invade us as on movie screens

they are so old, so new, we are not to them

we look at them or don’t from within the milky gauze

of our tilted gazing

but they don’t look back and we cannot hurt them