from Rings

by Ian Williams



Problem is our armpits and crotches are feathered
with cobwebs. Problem is she leaks soft-boiled eggs
or I package seedless grapes. Problem is her parents
made us wait until that had crossed the width
of my nose. Problem is she has a migraine. Problem is
we did not want children. Problem is we did
not want each other until too late. Problem is I can’t be
late for work in the morning. Problem is this morning
she says she dreamt she was holding a sandwich bag
of crickets. Problem is I am already late and listening
to the weather. Problem is we don’t speak
to the problem. Problem is the school bus
that stops in front of our townhouse just as I’m reversing

the problem is we don’t know who

But we did not want children. But we did
not want a townhouse either. But we got
a townhouse in a field of children with round
dimpled faces. But we did not want girls.
But we saw them in ribbon and crinoline
at church. But we did not want boys. But
we saw them squeezing frogs near the ravine.
But we did not want children. But they knocked
on our door with UNICEF cartons and chocolate
almonds. But we did not buy. But we bought.
But they wore soccer uniforms and ballet leotards
under their winter coats. But they sat in their mother’s
car as she dropped off the Avon. But we were surrounded by

pregnant women who grew round around

Or we could get a Pekingese. Give me children, or else I die.
Or a Siamese cat. Give me children, or else I die. Or we could
redecorate with glass and steel and pointy corners
in the best modern way. Give me children, or else I die. Or else
move to a ch-ching penthouse. Give me children,
or else I die.
Or throw parties and serve canapés. Give me
children, or else I die.
Or travel by train from farther to further
every spring. Give me children, or else I die. Or we could spend
the evenings counting our gold. Give me children, or else
I die.
Or become the cool aunt and uncle. Give me children,
or else I die.
Or sponsor a child or buy a goat. Give me children,
or else I die.
Or buy a hybrid or recycle more or run
a shelter or feed the poor or bike for cancer or knit for preemies

or else give me children or else give me children

Token Resistance

by John Ashbery



As one turns to one in a dream
smiling like a bell that has just
stopped tolling, hold out a book
and speaks: “All the vulgarity

of time, from the Stone Age
to our present, with its noodle parlors
and token resistance, is as a life
to the life that is given you. Wear it,”

so must one descend from checkered heights
that are our friends, needlessly
rehearsing what we will say
as a common light bathes us,

a common fiction reverberates as we pass
to the celebration. Originally
we weren’t going to leave home. But made bold
somehow by the rain we put our best foot forward.

Now it’s years after that. It
isn’t possible to be young anymore.
Yet the tree treats me like a brute friend;
my own shoes have scarred the walk I’ve taken.

Requests

by Don Paterson



O tell us more about your dad,
or why your second wife went mad,
or how it was you had no choice
but to give those men a voice;
sing that Cornish lullaby
you hush your kids with when they cry,
produce a boiled egg from your pocket,
a flageolet from your jacket,
expand on your idea that rhyme
is dead, or tell us of the time
you dropped your cellphone in the toilet;
a joke, a bird-call – please don’t spoil it,
go on with your brilliant proem!
Anything but read your poem.

Haunted Sonnet

by Hoa Nguyen



Haunt lonely and find when you lose your shadow
secretive house centipede on the old window

You pronounce Erinyes as “Air-n-ease”
Alecto: the angry     Magaera: the grudging

Tisiphone: the avenger (voice of revenge)
“Women guardians of the natural order”

Think of the morning dream with ghosts
Why draw the widow’s card and wear the gorgeous

Queen of Swords crown        Your job is
to rescue the not-dead woman before she enters

the incinerating garbage chute     wrangle silver
raccoon power     Forever a fought doll

She said, “What do you know about Vietnam?”
Violet energy ingots     Tenuous knowing moment

The Wheelchair

by Michael Longley



Pushing you in your wheelchair to the sea
I look down at your yellowy bald patch
And recall your double-crown’s tufty hair.

You were the naughtier twin, were you not?
It was I who wept when you were chastised.
where am I pushing you, dear brother, where?

from A Part Song

by Denise Riley



What is the first duty of a mother to a child?
At least to keep the wretched thing alive – Band
Of fierce cicadas, stop this shrilling.

My daughter lightly leaves our house.
The thought rears up: fix in your mind this
Maybe final glimpse of her. Yes, lightning could.

I make this note of dread, I register it.
Neither my note nor my critique of it
Will save us one iota. I know it. And.

The Laugh

by Don McKay



The inverse of language is like a laughter that seeks to destroy language, a laughter infinitely reverberated.
                              – EMMANUEL LEVINAS

The laugh that ate the snake and
runs through the city dressed in a sneeze, the mischief
done in these sly
passages of time, when the tongue is
severed from the voice and
fed to the weather, when the running
patter of catbirds simply
swallows the agenda, nothing to be held back,
nothing rescued in a catch-phrase or figure, your
house is on fire
and your children are gone.
When evenings pass as unseen
immaculate ships, and folk –
everyone is suddenly folk – rush to their porches
and lift their faces to this
effervescence of air,
wishing.
                Wishing what?
Just wishing.

from My Dear Double

by Donald Nicholson-Smith, translating from the French by Abdellatif Laâbi



My double
an old acquaintance
whom I visit with moderation
He is a shameless fellow
who plays on my shyness
and has the knack of profiting
from my distractedness
He is the shadow
who follows or precedes me
aping my walk
He even winkles his way into my dreams
and speaks the language of my demons
fluently
Despite our close intimacy
he is still a stranger to me
I neither hate nor love him
for after all
he is my double
the proof by default
of my existence

A List

by Russell Thornton



Once, I would make certain my name
did not appear in any directory. Now
I dream I am back in different times and places,
and the people I remember I loved
are not there, and the places not at all
as they were, and it is as if I have belonged
to some underground organization
set up to allow no member
to betray another – no member ever
knowing who his associates actually are.

Now I agree to be listed, I ask to be listed –
and hope that this will make it easy to find me.
And now I dream of a list. On it
everything I and those I have been with
have ever truly felt or done is recorded
in the clearest detail. In the same dream
is a man who walks alongside me and knows
nothing but the entire list by heart,
and will recite it to the moment I die,
and then he too will disappear.

Farther / Father

by Sandra Ridley



Our dead call out our dead / you show your filthy face
You useless tit / you runt / you piece of shit / a shame
Unleashed by plain-talk / begging before a threshing
From the old butcher / your leather strap / unbelted
Crescent buckle for a skinning / hiding / each of us /
Slickened with blood / held down in your hinterland
Each barren mile unabating / say mercy.

What dwells in the dog’s sleep / unbounded / darkness
The closer you are to the sun the more difficult you are
To see / penumbral / who runs from whom / until kept
Down / cowering / I do not move / you will not move.

You are no less dangerous than you were as you drag
Your bones / field stones / we never once wept upon
The firmament / eight children left with the lone wife
Who would not carry the quiet / the final cardiac pall
Paled thirty years / crescent moons / scars strapped
Below the heart.

A finisher with a surly disposition / better run boy
Run / before the shadow on an August day / flight
Of the dove interrupted / who should feel shame /
Worthless idlers / caught neurotic / we are taught
You will not be tamed.

Dirige / domine / deus meus / ignominious father / aberration
Uttered solemn / all you missed is nothing / noli me tangere /
Don’t touch me.

Each child dragged by its hair across the linoleum /
Given lip / good for nothing / illicit / dusk / dusk-lit
Let these bygones / cease holding on me.

We brace in the centre / attention / nothing more than this
Far-fetched ruckus / rot-gut fuss / a latched door farmhouse
Taunting / the slap-board remains / rants / lashed feverish
Your day’s demands / fraught / cling to the bleak / this filth
In plain sight / I am a man possessed.

Beyond two graves / yours and the child’s / a sole
Pine fallen from a lack of forest / the sun-downed
Dove-wing unfolds / under night / your closeness
Lies too close.

Birch box and iron nails / buried under the cover of lichen
Scrolled years / each letter etched by lime / faded shame
Be a lesser phantom / of the bleak / you will receive no less
No blossom braided in the child’s hair.

Rosemarie / rose of thorn / rose up from prairie
Wherever you have gone you will not take her /
Unfollowed to a harrow / kin / stone / infanta
Sub rosa / only her eyes cry.

Our dire wolf / bewildered / breath taken in plain sight /
Before the sun is farthest south / ruck-sacked / a shadow
Across the face / red zenith / dog-light / Dead Dog Creek
In the faithful hour / his small body filled with buckshot
Carry him / carry him.

Undreamt / the sleeper remains untouched.