from A Thin Plea

Phil Hall

copyright ©2011 Phil Hall

When I can’t sleep – when I’m sick – when no one else is home – when I’m lost in transit – I tinker

This is my word for what I do – a slow – un-clever – tactile – cheap – harmless rearranging of odd bits of my nature & gatherings – until they sing – off-key

I tinker at long sequences – & stay close to notebooks – mostly when no one is looking

Am increasingly filled with hopelessness – but sometimes when I’m up to my elbows in a line’s perplexities

Confidence lands its flocks upon me & I feel – inside the poem – unafraid

Autumn News from the Donkey Sanctuary

Ken Babstock

copyright ©2011 Ken Babstock

Cargo has let down
her hair a little and stopped pushing
Pliny the Elder on

the volunteer labour
During summer it was all Pliny the Elder,
Pliny the Elder, Pliny

the – she’d cease only
for scotch thistle, stale Cheerios, or to reflect
flitty cabbage moths

back at themselves
from the wet river-stone of her good eye. Odin,
as you already know,

was birthed under
the yew tree back in May, and has made
friends with a crow

who perches between
his trumpet-lily ears like bad language he’s not
meant to hear. His mother

Anu, the jennet with
soft hooves of Killaloe, is healthy and never
far from Loki or Odin.

The perimeter fence,
the ID chips like functional cysts slipped
under the skin, the trompe

l’oeil plough and furrowed
field, the UNHCR feed bag and visiting
hours. These things done

for stateless donkeys,
mules, and hinnies – done in love, in lieu of claims
to purpose or rights –

are done with your
generous help. In your names. Enjoy the photo.
Have a safe winter

outside the enclosure

Homework Assignment on the Subject of Angels

Joanna Trzeciak, translated from the Polish written by Tadeusz Rózewicz

copyright ©2011 by Joanna Trzeciak (English translation copyright)


look like
flakes of soot
cabbage leaves
stuffed with black rice
painted red
blue flames
with yellow tongues

fallen angels
look like
moons wedged beneath
the green fingernails of the dead

angels in heaven
look like the inner thighs
of an underage girl

like stars
they shine in shameful places
they are pure like triangles and circles
with silence
inside them

fallen angels
are like the open windows of a morgue
like cows’ eyes
like the skeletons of birds
like falling planes
like flies on the lungs of fallen soldiers
like streaks of autumn rain
connecting lips with birds taking flight

over a woman’s palm
a million angels

devoid of belly buttons
they type on sewing machines
long poems in the shape
of a white sail

their bodies can be grafted
onto the trunk of an olive tree

they sleep on ceilings
falling drop by drop


Sean O'Brien

copyright ©Sean O'Brien 2011

I remember the girl leaning down from the sunlight
To greet me. I could have been anyone. She could not:
She was Josie, remember, and smiling – she knew me already –
Auburn gate-girl to the garden-world,
To the lilacs and pears, the first summer
Seen perfectly once, then never again. And she left.
The garden – the garden, of course, has gone under the stone
And I cannot complain, a half-century gone
Like the cherry tree weeping its resin,
The dry grass, the slab of white marble
The butcher propped up in the back yard to sit on –
Things of the world that the world has no need of,
No more than of Josie or me or that morning.
Still a child as I see now, she leaned down
To smile as she reached out her brown hands to greet me
As though this were how these matters must be
And would be forever amen. She was saying goodbye.
And I cannot complain. What is under the stone
Must belong there, and no voice returns,
Not mine and not hers, though I’m speaking her name.


Yusef Komunyakaa

copyright ©2011 by Yusef Komunyakaa

These frantic blooms can hold their own
when it comes to metaphor & God.
Take any name or shade of irony, any flowery
indifference or stolen gratitude, & our eyes,
good or bad, still run up to this hue.
Take this woman sitting beside me,

a descendant of Hungarian Gypsies
born to teach horses to dance & eat sugar
from her hand, does she know beauty
couldn’t have protected her, that a poppy
tucked in her hair couldn’t have saved her
from those German storm troopers?

This frightens me. I see eyes peeping
through narrow slats of cattle cars
hurrying toward forever. I see “Jude”
& “Star of David” scribbled across a depot,
but she says, That’s the name of a soccer team,
baby. Red climbs the hills & descends,

hurrying out to the edge of a perfect view,
& then another, between white & violet.
It is a skirt or cape flung to the ground.
It is old denial worked into the soil.
It is a hungry new vanity that rises
& then runs up to our bleating train.

I am a black man, a poet, a bohemian,
& there isn’t a road my mind doesn’t travel.
I also have my cheap, one-way ticket
to Auschwitz & know of no street or footpath
death hasn’t taken. The poppies rush ahead,
up to a cardinal singing on barbed wire.

A View of the House from the Back of the Garden

David Harsent

copyright ©David Harsent, 2011

In darkness. In rain. Yourself at the very point
where what’s yours bleeds off through the palings
to terra incognito, and the night’s blood-hunt
starts up in the brush: the notion of something smiling
as it slinks in now for the rush and sudden shunt.

A women is laying a table; the cloth
billows as it settles; a wine-glass catches the light.
A basket for bread, spoons and bowls for broth
as you know, just as you know how slight
a hold you have on this: a lit window, the faint
odour of iodine in the rainfall’s push and pull.

Now she looks out, but you’re invisible
as you planned, though maybe it’s a failing
to stand at one remove, to watch, to want
everything stalled and held on an indrawn breath.

The house, the woman, the window, the lamplight falling
short of everything except bare earth –
can you see how it seems, can you tell
why you happen to be just here, where the garden path
runs off to black, still watching
as she turns away, sharply, as if in fright,
while the downpour thickens and her shadow on the wall,
trembling, is given over to the night?

Surely it’s that moment from the myth
in which you look back and everything goes to hell.


Fanny Howe

copyright ©2004 by Fanny Howe

The first person is an existentialist

like trash in the groin of the sand dunes
like a brown cardboard home beside a dam

like seeing like things the same
between Death Valley and the desert of Paran

An earthquake a turret with arms and legs
The second person is the beloved

like winners taking the hit
like looking down on Utah as if

it was Saudi Arabia or Pakistan
like war-planes out of Miramar

like a split cult a jolt of coke New York
like Mexico in its deep beige couplets

like this, like that … like Call us all It
Thou It. “Sky to Spirit! Call us all It!”

The third person is a materialist.

The Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart

David Kirby

copyright ©2003 David Kirby

I’m bouncing across the Scottish heath in a rented Morris Minor
                    and listening to an interview with Rat Scabies, drummer
of the first punk band, The Damned, and Mr. Scabies,
          who’s probably 50 or so and living comfortably on royalties,
is as recalcitrant as ever, as full of despair and self-loathing,

but the interviewer won’t have it, and he keeps calling him “Rattie,”
                    saying, “Ah, Rattie, it’s all a bit of a put-on, isn’t it?”
and “Ah, you’re just pulling the old leg now, aren’t you, Rattie?”
          to which Mr. Scabies keeps saying things like
“We’re fooked, ya daft prat. Oh, yeah, absolutely – fooked!”

Funny old Rattie – he believed in nothing, which is something.
                    If it weren’t for summat, there’d be naught, as they say
in that part of the world. I wonder if his dad wasn’t a bit of a bastard,
          didn’t drink himself to death, say, as opposed to a dad like mine,
who, though also dead now, was as nice as he could be when he was alive.

A month before, I’d been in Florence and walked by the casa di cura where
                    my son Will was born 27 years ago, though it’s not a hospital
now but a home for the old nuns of Le Suore Minime del Sacra Cuore
          who helped to deliver and bathe and care for him when he was just
a few minutes old, and when I look over the gate, I see three

of these holy sisters sitting in the garden there, and I wave at them,
                    and they wave back, and I wonder if they were on duty
when Will was born, these women who have had no sex at all,
          probably not even very much candy, yet who believe in something
that may be nothing, after all, though I love them for giving me my boy.

They’re dozing and talking, these mystical brides of Christ,
                    and thinking about their Husband, and it looks to me
as though they’re having their version of the sacra conversazione,
          a favorite subject of Renaissance artists in which people who care
for one another are painted chatting together about noble things,

and I’m wondering if, as I walk by later when the shadows are long,
                    their white faces will be like stars against their black habits,
the three of them a constellation about to rise into the vault
          that arches over Tuscany, the fires there now twinkling,
now steadfast in the chambered heart of the sky.

At Ursula’s

Derek Mahon

copyright ©Derek Mahon 2008

A cold and stormy morning
   I sit in Ursula’s place
and fancy something spicy
   served with the usual grace

by one of her bright workforce
   who know us from before,
a nice girl from Tbilisi,
   Penang or Baltimore.

Some red basil linguine
   would surely hit the spot,
something light and shiny,
   mint-yoghurty and hot;

a frosty but delightful
   pistachio ice-cream
and some strong herbal
   infusion wreathed in steam.

Once a tomato sandwich
   and a pint of stout would do
but them days are over.
   I want to have a go

at some amusing fusion
   Thai and Italian both,
a dish of squid and pine-nuts
   simmered in lemon broth,

and catch the atmospherics,
   the happy lunchtime crowd,
as the cold hand gets warmer
   and conversation loud.

Boats strain at sea, alas,
   gales rattle the slates
while inside at Ursula’s
   we bow to our warm plates.