Paul Muldoon was born in 1951 in County Armagh, Northern Ireland, and educated in Armagh and at the Queen’s University of Belfast. Since 1987 he has lived in the United States, where he is now Howard G. B. Clark ’21 Professor at Princeton University and Chair of the University Center for the Creative and Performing Arts. Paul Muldoon’s main collections of poetry are New Weather (1973), Mules (1977), Why Brownlee Left (1980), Quoof (1983), Meeting The British (1987), Madoc: A Mystery (1990), The Annals of Chile (1994), Hay (1998), Poems 1968-1998 (2001) and Moy Sand and Gravel (2002), for which he won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize. His tenth collection, Horse Latitudes, appeared in the fall of 2006. [http://www.paulmuldoon.net]
“Who wants to be poor?” I ask, and
no one raises their hand –
“Or middle class?” and nearly
every student nods – except for
two. “Why middle class?”
And Brian says, “That’s how you find love –
You need to have money.” Jason who
Rarely speaks mutters, “I’m tired of
Living paycheck to paycheck.” I push on. “And rich?
Who wants to be rich?” The two unspoken put their hands up,
Into the air. “And how will you achieve this?”
“By finishing school and working hard.” Scott speaks
in a low voice, as if he were embarrassed to yearn for
“Wait!” Eric calls out – his face lined with
conflict. “Can I be both rich and middle class?”
He has already chosen the middle class, but looks
At me, imploringly, as if I were a Greek oracle, deciding his
Fate; and even before I can find an answer, Eric
Crashes his fist on the edge of the chair, “No!”
He shouts, determined, “I’m tired of
Being a spoiled brat – I’ll be middle-class!”
And the students cheer
A Letter Found
A letter nearly lost – found by
her daughter, amongst Cousin Patty’s
papers – a letter written
For, but probably not by
My Romanian immigrant grandfather,
Michael to his daughter
Sylvia on August 6, 1926
In a slanted, cursive hand
He says, “Dear Sylvia, I
Received your address from Irving
And now I am writing to
You a letter. Write me
How you feel. and
How you are getting along as
I am very anxious to know.”
He signs it, “Your father, Mr.
So formal, cousin Joyce
Calls this new, startling discovery, “the
Mr. Goldstein letter.” We cousins
And second cousins, the youngest
Alive had never met him.- never
Knew him at all.
In life, a distant man – few fragments
We know of him – but these
Words in writing connect us
To our past.- to this ancestor
Who gave me my angled jaw, long legs
And high cheekbones – but why
Did he write this letter? What
Sorrow was he healing for my
Aunt? Joyce thinks the Aunt
Had lost a baby.- there were
For my grandfather, that sorrow was
Deep. There were lost children in
The family of Mr. Goldstein – a son
They called Phillip died of diphtheria –
Never mentioned – except
In an interview I taped
With an Uncle. “You’ve
Forgotten something,” Aunt Vera
Said, “there was a son named
They lived in Albany.”
And there were lost grandchildren
For Mr. Goldstein. too – Rachel
With soft curls – I’ve seen her
In a photo –and
Gloria who rolled off a bed and…
Death had taken children and
Grandchildren from the Old
Romanian – near to death
Himself – there was sadness
Hidden in the letter – in
The voice I had never heard.
In the Chinese School: Stories
Children in the Chinese
School love stories, small,
Only six, so I
Read to them; “The Puppy who
Runs Away”; “The Kitten Who
Thinks she is a Mouse.”
They laugh in a burst of joy with
Soft brown eyes they listen, jump
From their mats and
Encircle me, fingers touching
My shoulders, my knees,
Jostling each other with elbows,
Calling out, “I can’t see –
Let me see!”
“Let’s sing a song now”
I say; once a folksinger of
The sixties, I chant,
“Where have all the flowers gone?”
Enchanted, they listen, then,
“where flowers gone,”
they call back
Joan Goldstein, Ph.D. is a poet and a sociologist who writes poems inspired by her students at Mercer County Community College, children in The Chinese School (in Montgomery township,) and her family who immigrated from Romania. Dr. Goldstein studied creative writing with the famed Iowa University’s Writers’ Workshop when Robert Lowell and John Berryman were resident poets. She is the author of three non-fiction books and plans to connect with a publisher for a book of her poetry this year.
You could say it wore a skirt of ivy flounces —
still had that much self-respect,
hadn’t realized it was dead yet, kept pumping
sap to the ghost of its branches
that rose like a glass dream. You could
call it a sort of Viennese table or a mess
after breakfast: spilled syrup
without the pancakes. Or that it was the sliced off
breast of a saint — a wound
with red ants quietly nursing, and
blow flies — those busy iridescent bruises —
swarming in like Hells Angels
on a rumor of free beer. Or
that it was no longer
a plant at all, but the corpse
of an animal. You could offer
that the maple might have crushed
your roof in a storm or that you had to have the light
each morning the way a child needs a big glass
of milk. Or that it was the El Niño winter
that made everything crazy,
made February break into a fever
and the six-legged drunks wake up
five weeks early. You could say that the stump
was a bitter fountain or maybe
a wild barrel of hope spilling
its sweet water over the ivy frills and bark, and into
the dirt making a kind of dark batter, or
that it was glad to be drenched in its last
wet joy, as if green, or the love of green,
was what it lived by.
There’s the wag and where’s the rest
of him? Quick
S of matterless
motion. Ever-changing signature.
Belt upon the floor without its shirts and pants.
O where is the hard evidence
of being? There is no fear like fear of snakes
unless it is thrill, its white cousin.
The chance encounter
with a milky stocking caught on a log.
Is that the definition of ghost
or careless love–that slipping free
of all restrictions, all consequence?
There is no thrill like the thrill of snakes
though for some of their length
is a form of love.
Once I knew a boy who embraced their loopiness,
draped a green tree python
over his soft shoulder–
oxbow of a leather river,
long cool arm of a movie star,
sequined esophagus he stroked
and never found its clinginess too much.
The python? It couldn’t get enough
of the boy’s 98.6 and nuzzled his neck
with its wise triangular head.
There is no love like the love of the unloved
unless it is escape.
Consider the liquidity of the snake,
the unstoppable timeline of its form,
how a thin one pours
through your grip like toothpaste.
In a pet store a corn snake
slid like a lost friend
from the hole between my finger and thumb
and would not come back to my fist–
inch after inch
There is no flight like the flight of snakes,
and it is not only that they slither,
constrict, sometimes inject the cruel
hypodermic of death.
If, as I do, you fear them,
consider the happiness of seeing
a snake’s skeleton,
of warming your hands
over the pale radiator of its back
or dancing so fast upon its trainless tracks
you grow wings. It’s that
or the unbearable vigilance of living.
On that day the passenger pigeon
will return. Your sunburn will decide
not to become cancer. You’ll remember
where you left your wallet, and it will
be there undisturbed. You’ll forget
your lover told you to hang yourself
with the telephone cord. Your neighbor
with the loud radio will sell her house.
You will know which papers to keep
and which to throw out. You’ll find the friend
you seek at break of day. Thereafter
you will be known by another name.
Lynn Levin’s most recent collection of poems, Imaginarium (Loonfeather Press), was a finalist for ForeWord Magazine‘s 2005 Book of the Year Award. Her poems have appeared in Boulevard, Hunger Mountain, Margie, Many Mountains Moving, on Garrison Keillor’s show, The Writer’s Almanac, and many other places. A poet laureate of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Lynn Levin teaches at the University of Pennsylvania and at Drexel University, where she is also the executive producer of the cable TV show, The Drexel InterView.The poems featured here are from Lynn Levin’s collection, Imaginarium, which is available through Barnes and Noble or directly from Loonfeather Press.
You can tell there’s ice in patches on the lake
only because the gulls are standing on it,
each on one leg to maintain body-warmth,
each facing into the wind as always.
Knowing it’s there you can see the ice
presenting a different surface to the air
like the skin on your mug of boiled milk
that you blew into wrinkles then hooked out
with a fingertip or a crust to eat like cream.
You can tell what trees and bushes grow here
only if you see their leaves or berries
under them on the frost-hard ground.
Out-of-season furniture, they’ve been
dust-covered by honeysuckle vines,
smothered into uniform hillocks of scribbles
like the Seven Sleepers hidden in their hair,
or Sleeping Beauty’s castle and lands
overgrown with briar roses and brambles.
You can tell what’s happened on this land
only if you can read the signs embedded
in its placid grassy face: the glacier boulders
pushed to its downslope edge by backhoes;
the faded pasture fence marking
boundaries once made stock-proof
by hedges of osage orange; the trail
between the last two mansions to go up,
where fox scat still appears from time to time.
Along the no man’s land beside the rails
and in the woods that border the canal
late April finds old apple trees in bloom
at random, scattered much too thinly
to be the survivors of ancient orchards,
and mostly with no sign of cellar hole
or the abandoned lilacs that might once
have been planted around an outhouse.
No, these rise above nothing noteworthy–
stretches of skunk cabbage, dried-up mud,
or swamp in a wet spring, weedy saplings
that show how high the last floodwaters rose
by clinging to their stoles of twiggy mess,
intertwined with plastic bags, fishing lures,
dead cattails and the sort of rubbishy loot
a large untidy bird might build a nest with.
I like to think of the man who dug the canal
or laid the rails for a pittance, in muck
and shale, through rock and river bottom,
pausing to munch the apple given him
by a farmer’s daughter he’d smiled at
in the last settlement they passed, or else
by the boss to mark a mile achieved
ahead of schedule, and tossing away the core.
Owl pellets our fifth graders teased apart
in the biology lab are like their dreams,
filled with remnants of the day before.
Different owls make different bricolages.
One loved mice–here are the vertebrae
and bent-comb ribcages of three,
with two of their skulls and a skeletal tail,
neatly pasted to the labeled file card.
Another found a young chipmunk;
we can tell it by its teeth, and the length
of its leg bones, laid out on the white
rectangle as though on a mortuary slab
below the wing-cases of a beetle.
This one seems to have dined on baby birds,
coughing up their inch-long yellow legs,
their beaked skulls, their fledgling feathers;
and the next card shows a schematic frog
from an owl who hunted near a pond.
As retold dreams catch only shards
this gluey display lacks the juicy crunch
of each starlit meal, the blood and innards,
the wriggle and squeal and flutter of death,
the warm joy of hunger assuaged again.
The Luxury of Obstacles
Without necessity, no invention.
One-celled animals live the simple life,
no worries, no urges more important
than consuming and dividing, but
when something exerts extraordinary
the inventions are more and more
adaptation. mutation. disease.
not to mention the land adventure,
the taste of plants and other animals,
dance and speech and misunderstanding,
accidental or intentional. religion.
politics. cell phones.
In the end we have to love the stuff
that complicates and lengthens life:
traffic lights, crowded doctors’ waiting rooms,
taking off our shoes in airports, sausage recalls.
And all the machines that need reprogramming
every time the power fails.
Elizabeth (Mimi) Danson was born in India, spent her early childhood in China, and was educated in England. She has lived in Princeton for most of her adult life, teaching at Princeton Day School, working in publishing, and administering an arts center. Her writing has appeared in US 1 Worksheets, The New Review, Fourth Genre, and other publications. Her book, “The Luxury of Obstacles,” was published by The Ragged Sky Press in 2006.
Hands and feet come first
Reluctantly, with the sensory responsibility
Of a blind boy, he pauses
As his skin measures the size
Of the room, by the dampness
And heat, implicit in air
He speaks English, as we all do
Spicy Thai accent punctuating
The monotone cadence like sparse, leaky
Boats breaking the smooth line
Of waves that always seem to fall
He flirts in the silences
Hollows between bone and flesh and perspiration
As the contours of his hands, beating
Down my weary back as a drum
A slow, steady rhythm of pain
At my deliberate request
I imagine he is distilling my blood
Thick, obstinate blood of a woman
Flowing simultaneously to the head
And to the heart, naively believing
It would heal.
He asks my name, then my age
Youth is detectable, porous to the touch
His fingers linger, remembering a woman
By the texture of salt on her skin,
The roughness, the lack of immersion
Between water and sun-oil
I recall the negation of his eyes
Fluttering, winged lids pretending to fly
Beyond the story of a boy who does not see
The sad story of a fatalistic girl
Who does not know how to die.
Tonight I am awake in twilight’s cool sobriety
Contemplating the expanse of a moment
Discerning the octaves of silence from dreams
This moment I am dreaming, because a woman can have many lives.
This moment a woman is pretending to sleep
Her husband nuzzling her ear, his legs juxtaposed on her thighs
Soft, raspy whispers of things she does not want to hear
She murmurs a tepid, “I love you,” because he expects it.
This moment a child is crying, skin bracing the cold nitrogen
Of the atmosphere, that instant life enters her pores
Displacing amniotic warmth with dryness and indifference
And she cries, as we all do, because it hurts.
This moment a mother is also crying, her salt flowing onto plastic veins
Conducting her breath back into the dark tunnel where it all began.
Morphine numbing a somber swelling in her breast, and she cries
Because time is evaporating and her thoughts are yet unfinished.
This moment a farmer is awakening, darkness preceding
An opalescent morning; the cock is crowing and his daughter
Milking the cows; she moves on to the corn-studded landscape.
The hoe is tough, but she ploughs onward because that is her identity.
This moment a writer is obliterating words
Electronic letters dancing across a screen, visible and invisible
Between intervals, inspiration mingled with fatigue, the sweat
Spilling into her eyes, stinging, and she fears she may go blind.
This moment a woman is reminiscing the dead
Steam swirling from the hazelnut coffee he used to make
That she continues to drink with cream, allowing the haunting
To occur, because the table is empty and she is alone.
This moment is memory alive, a continuous pearl on a bracelet
Congealed salt, sweat, and spit pressured into an imperfect sphere
Situated one by one, each making possible the next
Coming full circle around a woman’s wrist.
Catherine KHN Magia is still discovering her own poetic voice. She has been published in the Michigan Quarterly Review and Lips. She has been a TV talk show host on public access television in Northern NJ. She works as a manager of marketing research for Bristol Myers Squibb Co. and currently resides in Plainsboro, NJ.
I push you in your chair,
Bringing you back again to where I found you
Curled up and alone.
I remember I sat in the pew beside you.
Your solitude made me uncomfortable.
I stayed through the day until I was sure you were not lost but
Then wheeled you home.
You flop your head.
I present a shoulder.
Your mouth flinches,
You stare blankly,
But I bring you here each day to hear them sing, To You oh Lord I lift my soul,
To You I lift my soul. Your arm falls.
I lift it back into your lap
And smooth your long blond hair.
You were well groomed when I found you.
Someone must have loved you
I wash you on the bed with a towel.
Your body is heavy to turn.
I grind your meals
And push them down your throat with my fingers.
I dress you, my doll.
I used to put you before the TV
But your face would turn to the window like a plant to the sun.
I trim your nails, your hair.
I change your diapers,
For whom do you bleed?
I talk to you but
I don’t know who it is you hear.
You are voiceless.
Did you ever sing?
When you look into my eyes it is because
I have placed myself before you.
Your eyes look capped,
Dark frozen seas.
Nothing goes in or out anymore.
Did they ever really look into another’s eyes?
What did they see last?
What made them stop looking?
I don’t know what you long for.
I don’t know what you lost.
I don’t know why God preserves you but
To teach me the end of love.
Ruth Ruth O’Toole is the author of Otsu and Other Poems, published by Bronze by Gold Press, and available at amazon.com. Her novel Clarissa@Loveless.com was published serially through classicnovels.com in 2002, and can now be read online in its entirety at www.clarissa.loveless.com. Ms. O’Toole earned her MA in English at NYU in 1990. She lives in Morristown, New Jersey, with her husband and three children, and is currently working on a forthcoming novel about the influence of sex and celibacy on women artists.
“Where was Sarah when Abraham took his son up the mountain?” Alicia Suskin Ostriker
Mother, did father tell you
where he took me this morning?
Did he tell you why
we went to the mountain top?
Why did he not want me
to wake you up?
Why did he slip out
of the back door tip-toe?
Did you see the kitchen knife
he took with him?
Mother, are you listening?
From this day on
I am never going to go
anywhere without you.
My Father who is in Heaven,
when he was on Earth
if he were like God,
I would have run away
Memories on Turning 75
I have many.
A good memory
I do not have.
my father looked at me in the mirror
When I was your age
I was two years dead,
why complain, my son?
Born, feb.1,1928 in Rawalpindi(then in India, now in Pakistan).Grew up in Lahore.B.Sc. in Physics in Pyhysics and Chemistry, M.A. in Economics, both from Punjab University;Ph.D.in Economics, U.of Calif.Berkeley, Cal.Except for a year as free lance writer and journalist, and has been in school most of his life as a student or a teacher. Shanti has had published essays and poetry in Hindi,short stoties in Urdu, and written, directed and produced plays in Punjabi, Hindi and English. Having taught at various universities, Shanti retired from Rutgers after 28 years of teaching in 1998.
There are no tears in the house of poetry.
Gentlemen, the door is air.
Come in, the birds will adore you.
A house of words is not bricks,
but resonance. The roses are curious;
reading is a game of badminton
to them. Any English child has a name
for it, this place of pretend,
like the hat-crowned house the lost boys built
around the fallen Wendy.
There is only a noun up my sleeve.
It is true, too, an Arab child calls his verses houses
and may carry hundreds before the day is through.
Ladies, my frown returns like a homing pigeon.
My arm is paper, like my long brown hair.
I use my pen to chip away a whole,
crowd into this place where I am not alone.
Like Wendy, who wakened to mother lost boys,
I rub my eyes and teach lost words to fly.
I am sorry this chair is not wood.
That this cup is but two consonants, a vowel
and a syllable. Nevertheless,
I hope you are comfortable.
The roses say you are beautiful.
Today, the Arab children recite houses
to the English. Through the smallest windows,
Beethoven’s laughter is heard.
Friends, the t is served. Please stay.
The sky is homemade and the birds are singing. Piano
I want to go home
said the small, blond boy at the door
of his house and I knew
what he meant, how the heart
has a different number and street
and its door opens perpetually to a man
we cannot find in these rooms,
these real rooms I have painted the color
of flowers longing for this interior winter,
this winter of the heart to end,
these beautiful rooms and halls
a widow and her two small boys wander
not knowing what else to do
like a certain length of music
in search of a piano.
The Telephone Man
Most of the time he was the back of a gray shingled house,
not very attractive, with grass and a line hooked up for clothes,
underlined by my windowsill;
but sometimes he was the floor of my bedroom
or the rug in the hall.
His voice moved around my rooms like a spirit
moving in and out of my objects;
sometimes claiming the paperweight,
only to fly off suddenly inside the body of a bird;
for nearly a week it possessed the roses he sent
and fled to a bowl after I threw them out.
Sometimes the actual man would show up,
his face defined by shadows that fell beneath his lashes
and chin,Vermeer-like glints on his eyes and lips
that made him even more real looking;
he smelled like a creature I belonged to,
so unlike the beige receiver of my telephone.
But his arrival was hinged on departure
like the little boy in Proust
who perpetually waits under the covers
for his mother’s goodnight kiss
and comes to realize that as soon as her steps
approach, they recede;
an opening of the door begins its closing.
I couldn’t trust which kiss was which,
hello and goodbye were just a matter of degree.
The little boy under his covers,
I against my wall.
Like the anorexic who makes eating
a special occasion, or the suicide
who does the same for death,
he would choose to withhold
Monday and Tuesday and all the other duller moments,
denying me the ordinary affection
of such times.
My body became a photograph of itself,
a reference to something past,
concluded, no more than a resonance,
like the voice on the radio in the car as he pulled away
or the daily god that rose from the answering machine.
To my nothingness, its memory,
he offered me his phantom hand
with a bouquet of invisible flowers.
Time became an inconvenience,
no longer unfolding, but rewinding.
Real life was a passenger in the one we hoped for,
while the good dream we all wake up from
trying to determine the meaning of,
left us with only the dust of what it felt like.
That particular day,
because we were not on the telephone,
I was reminded how empty I feel
when the children run from me
and go to their friends
and the driveway is full of snow
and that kiss was not hello
and he is in reverse
backing away, and away,
and I stood there
as cold as I could bear
biting my lip until it bled
knowing the phone in the house was dead,
if indeed it had ever really lived.
Wendy Woody Kwitny’s book, House of Affection, was published by The Sheep Meadow Press in 2004.
Your poem “The Whale in my Back Yard,”
lacks sufficient imagery. I want to actually
hear the sounds of the sea, angry men
in mortal combat—we need a riot of colors,
verbs, adverbs, adjectives, and so forth.
Lose the first eight stanzas—they are really
“just information,” anybody can do that.
Great, palpitating, monstrous killer whale
seems rather forced. How about something
simpler, like big fat whale ?
Tubes of blood coursing down Main St.,
what’s that all about? Is blood supposed
to represent the hero’s ambivalence toward
whale meat? And what are camels doing in there?
The line breaks lack authority, and you should
never end a line with a double iamb. Here—
lose the last stanza, make the next to last stanza
the first stanza, after the deleted first eight stanzas.
Take out references to the French Revolution,
no one really cares any more. And, just what
does my callow ex-wife the raging whale killer
refer to? Can this be made clearer?
You have only one really good stanza,
but we deleted it. Have you read Goethe?
Pluto, they’re beginning to talk about you,
something about losing your status as the planet farthest
from our reluctant mother the sun.
After all those solitary years aloft, your reputation
in all the books, nudged aside by some big glob of ice—
so far away, where darkness is the only rule.
And who are we to pronounce your place in the cosmos,
even though each of us is, in the smallest way,
a dying star, far from everything we know.
John Setliffe Bourne lives in New Jersey with his wife, Adele, also a poet. His poetry has appeared in the Asheville Poetry Review, Mad Poets Review,Mississippi Review, Paterson Literary Review, Southern Poetry Review , and U. S. 1 Worksheets. He received the Atlanta Review Certificate of Merit for their International Poetry Competitions 2004 and 2005, and honorable mentions from Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award, Mississippi Review, and Nimrod.
O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels,
Leash’d in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire
Crouch for employment. But pardon, and gentles all,
The flat unraised spirits that have dared
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object: can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?
O, pardon! since a crooked figure may
Attest in little place a million;
And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
On your imaginary forces work.
Suppose within the girdle of these walls
Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high upreared and abutting fronts
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder:
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;
Into a thousand parts divide on man,
And make imaginary puissance;
Think when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth;
For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there; jumping o’er times,
Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass: for the which supply,
Admit me Chorus to this history;
Who prologue-like your humble patience pray,
Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.
Erik Sherr is a professional actor who has appeared with the Princeton Rep Shakespeare Festival in its productions of The Taming of the Shrew and King Lear, as well as extensive New York and regional credits which include: The Atlantic Theatre Company, NADA, Shakespeare & Co., The Delaware Theatre Company, and The Hampton Playhouse. Mr. Sherr is a graduate of NYU/Tisch School of the Arts.
Victoria Liberatori is the founder and artistic director of the Princeton Rep Company/Princeton Rep Shakespeare Festival, a professional Actor’s Equity theatre since 1984.