Transition: Poems in the Aftermath

A poem a day by a different poet responding to the election from Nov. 9 to Jan. 20
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Transition Poem 73 @ Jan. 20, 2017

Lynn Schmeidler
All Our Karmas Bear Fruit Without Exception

Nobody saw it coming but the florist whose data—
she loves me she loves me not—presupposed the peaceful
transfer of affection. Despite the heart in my cris de coeur,

elections are not love songs. I come from the country of
what happens to me happens to you. We might have coupled
on a ballroom floor strewn with ceiling shards

in the bed-ridden monopoly of a moment in herstory,
but we refused to consider the desire of pavement
to crack. We might have recited The Book of Shadows

or broken flesh with one another in a ritual
of witches had there been more play in our defeat. As it is,
one more binge of fatal choices and I might split open

in a gutted mess of slogans at the profane communion table
of a felled future. America, bikini-craving brain
doused in dopamine, when it comes to a free vacation

giveaway where wine is spilled on promiscuous lips,
you’re an easy mark. With each exhale let go of your
attachments, one by one. We might have given birth to a butterfly,

fed a forest at our breast, lived and been counted. Once,
I was swaddled in footed pajamas, now tomorrow
comes up as unavailable on my caller ID.

And what’s with the daily news, breaking like a rogue wave
over the ocean liner of my guided meditation?
Hope has a shyster’s face printed in blood on its wings.

I hold out my begging bowl to this new now.

 

Editor’s Note: This poem includes in its entirety Mina Loy’s “Love Songs to Joannes,” section 3, which is in the public domain and reads as follows:

We might have coupled
In the bedridden monopoly of a moment
Or broken flesh with one another
At the profane communion table
Where wine is spilled on promiscuous lips
We might have given birth to a butterfly
With the daily news
Printed in blood on its wings

 

Lynn Schmeidler‘s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Awl, Barrow Street, Boston Review, Fence, Cider Press Review, The Los Angeles Review, New Delta Review, SLAB, Saw Palm, Comstock Review, The Pedestal Magazine, and White Stag, among other journals, as well as in the anthologies Drawn to Marvel: Poems from the Comic Books (Minor Arcana Press), Mischief, Caprice and Other Poetic Strategies (Red Hen Press), Out of Sequence: The Sonnets Remixed (Parlor Press), and Bared (Les Femmes Folles Books). Her chapbook Curiouser & Curiouser won the 2013 Grayson Books Chapbook Contest. Her chapbook More Than One Burning was a finalist for the 2016 Two Sylvias Chapbook Prize.

Transition Poem 72 @ Jan. 19, 2017

W.P. Osborn
Autumn Poem

A gap between the eave and roof showed smoke.
I went to look; perceived an attic flame.
Emergency: Your help is on the way.
Just time to get the cats into their cage
and listen for a distant siren’s wail.
It didn’t come; my lungs could draw no air.
I phoned again; the woman said she’d failed,
would send a rig to help without delay.
The smoke grew thick, the flames consuming all,
blue and orange flaring through the eaves
and seeping out the downstairs window frames.
I smelled it now, the stink of tires and leaves.
I heard the wind roar; fire makes that sound.
I dreamed our little house was burning down.

 

W.P. Osborn‘s Seven Tales and Seven Stories won the 2013 Unboxed Books Prize in Fiction, selected by Francine Prose. His short work is in Chicago Quarterly Review, Southern Humanities Review, Texas Review, Hotel Amerika, Mississippi Review, Gettysburg Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, Gargoyle, and other journals.

Transition Poem 71 @ Jan. 18, 2017

Denver Butson
the aforementioned scarecrow

is not holding his head down because it is autumn and because the weight of the year has weakened him. he is not bent over because it is time to acquiesce to gravity at last. he is not disintegrating into himself as is the custom of scarecrows come October come November. the aforementioned scarecrow is not simply doing what scarecrows have always done and dissolving when the days grow short and dark comes f a s t . n o . t h e aforementioned scarecrow is weeping like he has never wept before. angry like he has never been angry before. and he is gathering his sadness and his rage into power he has never known before. the aforementioned scarecrow is mustering up all his straw and mud and crumpled paper and dust. to lift his head for once in his long life of standing still. and to scare the falling sun from falling. and if not that to scare the fallen sun to pull itself back up and rise again.

 

Denver Butson is the author of triptych (The Commoner Press, 1999), Mechanical Birds (St. Andrews College Press, 2001) and illegible address (Luquer Street Press, 2004). His work has been in anthologies edited by Billy Collins, Garrison Keillor, and Agha Shahid Ali, has been regularly featured on NPR’s Writers Almanac, and has earned him a individual artist fellowship from the New York Foundation for the arts. He is a frequent collaborator with artists in other disciplines, most recently visual artist Pietro Costa, grammy-nominated violist Mat Maneri, chef Antonio Migliaccio, and Emmy-winning filmmaker Eric Maierson. He lives with his wife, actress Rhonda Keyser, and their daughter Maybelle in Carroll Gardens.

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Transition Poem 70 @ Jan. 17, 2017

Walter Holland
The Ship of State

changes course,
doors swing right and left unhinged
and on a dark sea and in a dark room

the engines come to halt. Slowly
lights go out, one by one
shimmer and die

while faint voices sound
alarm and huddled on the top
deck, the men in tuxedos

women adorned, chatter on;
a pause in the music,
a respite from the dance

a tinkling of crystal
while the great silence below ensues
where immigrants in steerage

cower on half-knees and
in the vast hull of the ship
the water seeps in

to the cries of workmen
soaked in sweat. A captain
half-distracted, half-amused

calls from his tower room,
as the ship begins to list,
his assistants bark their orders

with absurd futility;
they argue about the chain of
command, their loyalty

and then the creak of iron,
to stairways thronged, the half-awake
driven from their sleep

wait to climb to higher ground;
and the compass merely spins,
as the great bow plunges down.

 

Walter Holland is the author of three books of poetry including Circuit, Transatlantic, and A Journal of the Plague Years: Poems 1979-1992 as well as one novel, The March. His work has appeared in The Antioch Review, Assaracus, HazMat, Redivider, Rhino and other journals and anthologies. He lives in New York City and is a regular contributor to Lambda Literary and Pleiades. For more info check out walterhollandwriter.com. He holds a BA from Bard, and MA from City College, and a PhD in English Literature from the Graduate Center, CUNY.

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Transition Poem 69 @ Jan. 16, 2017

Sarah Van Arsdale
Ethics

In a future I cannot imagine
will we say to each other,
remember that afternoon,
that thing with the ethics committee,
that was when everything changed?
 
Will we say,
was that before the inauguration,
and puzzle it out, tethering from Christmas
to Joan’s party the day after New Year’s
yes, it was early in January
yes, it was between the election
and the inauguration

Will we say,
remember, we drove up to the Catskills
it was raining
and we stopped for gas
and I bought a Times because the headline
was so alarming

and we kept driving north on the Taconic
and it was that stasis
between late fall and true winter:
raining, but just after Hopewell Junction
the pond that forms there between the northbound
and the southbound lanes
was frozen over with a skin of ice
and the desperate trees, bare of leaves
scratched against the fog-­heavy sky
and the apron of woods
banking up from the parkway
lay littered with leaf meal
and patches of early snow.

Will we remember this afternoon,
the rain, the Times tossed into the back seat,
arriving at last, the clumps of snow
heaped by the trunks of the trees,
the warm purr of the furnace,
the roses resting, wrapped
against the coming freeze?

 

Sarah Van Arsdale’s fourth book is a collection of novellas titled In Case of Emergency, Break Glass (Queen’s Ferry Press, 2016) and her next book, The Catamount, a long narrative poem, is forthcoming in 2017 from Nomadic Press. Both are illustrated with her watercolors. Her novels are Grand Isle (SUNY Press 2012); Blue (University of Tennessee Press, 2003), winner of the Peter Taylor Prize for the Novel; and Toward Amnesia (Riverhead Books, 1996). She serves on the board of the Ferro-Grumley Award in LGBTQ Fiction, and teaches in the Antioch University MFA Program and at NYU.

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Transition Poem 68 @ Jan. 15, 2017

Sharon Mesmer
Welcome

A student asked, “When times of great difficulty visit us, how should we meet them?”
The teacher said, “Welcome.”

— Buddhist saying

Welcome subsiding of light
Welcome turning of the year

Welcome unexpected conclusion

Welcome abyss divulging its form

Welcome darkness that is another sun

Welcome all we are about to lose
Welcome all we are about to gain

Welcome sitting with all that is difficult

Welcome climbing the ladder of the spine
and drinking the breath in in a single sip

Welcome no thoughts

Welcome many thoughts

Welcome wound that never heals

Welcome event horizon where familiar things disappear

Welcome age of chaos

Welcome carefully choosing words so as to not tell everything because
certain things lose fragrance in air

Welcome loss of words — in a little while
there may be many

Welcome no words

Welcome many words

Welcome all that is difficult

Welcome all-consuming weariness

Welcome familiar joys tinged with bitterness

Welcome reversal

Welcome moment when something new appears
Welcome unknown frontier that forces us to become
more than we ever were before

Welcome all that is difficult

Welcome turning all mishaps into the path
Welcome driving all blames into one
Welcome being grateful to everyone

Welcome new poem that some will dismiss
Welcome new poem that some may misunderstand

Welcome new poem written quickly wherein I say
“Welcome, new future of which I am not afraid
for I have already looked into the abyss
and am prepared for light”

Welcome subsiding of light

Welcome returning of light

Welcome turning

Turning, turning

To light

 

Sharon Mesmer is the author of Greetings From My Girlie Leisure Place (Bloof Books, 2015), voted “Best of 2015” by Entropy. Previous poetry collections are Annoying Diabetic Bitch (Combo Books, 2008), The Virgin Formica (Hanging Loose Press, 2008), Vertigo Seeks Affinities (Belladonna Books, 2007), and Half Angel, Half Lunch (Hard Press, 1998). Four of her poems appear in Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology (second edition, 2013). Her fiction collections are Ma Vie à Yonago (Hachette Littératures, Paris, in French translation, 2005), In Ordinary Time (Hanging Loose Press, 2005) and The Empty Quarter (Hanging Loose Press, 2000). Her essays, reviews and interviews have appeared in the New York Times, Paris Review, American Poetry Review, and the Brooklyn Rail, among other places. She teaches in the undergraduate and graduate programs of New York University and The New School and lives in Brooklyn.

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Transition Poem 67 @ Jan. 14, 2017

Ellen Greenfield
Splitting Wood

Jefferson, NY 11/12/16

Here in the chill November light
My job is splitting wood for winter.
True, I am too small of stature
To wield an axe
But I can use a different tool.
True, I have to plug it in
But it transforms little power into great strength.

Looking at the space the wood must fill
I almost despair –
So much emptiness to address
But I can start.
I choose a heap of logs to split
Then run them one by one through the splitter.

Each demands my scrutiny:
How does the grain flow? Where are the knots?
I nestle one in the cradle
And press a switch to trigger the chassis –
Five tons of hydraulic pressure
Conveys the wood, unyielding, toward an immoveable wedge.

Some crack easily, others resist:
The toughest snap back to slam a leg
Or mash a finger.
But soon another pile grows –
Logs readied for the fire.
These I pitch into the barrow and wheel to the porch
(An awkward load and hard to balance)
Where I stack them, armload by armload
Close at hand, to last through winter.

From pile to splitter
Splitter to pile
Pile to barrow
Barrow to porch

Armload by armload.

And when I take stock again,
The waiting space is almost filled
The work is getting done
Winter’s bitterness will be overcome.

 

Ellen Greenfield is a poet and novelist living in Brooklyn and Jefferson, NY. Her novel, White Roses, will be published this spring by 3Ring Press, which also published her earlier novel, Come From Nowhere.

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Transition Poem 66 @ Jan. 13, 2017

Jennifer L. Knox
A Polite Request

“They answered!” Stan yipped and tilted the phone so I could hear: crackly static (we knew it would be). We waited ages for the beep, then Stan recited the script, calm as balm, all blame and rage scoured from his voice: “By sheer luck we are not ones underground, but we hear the tunneling. We put the money in a bag made of yodels like you like it and gave it to the eagle on top of our flagpole. It’s in his talons till you need it. Happy birthday,” Stan said, then gingerly closed the flip phone in a fluid Kung Fu move. Once he’d have slapped it shut like a castanet, but now—who knew how long anything needed to last. “You’re so good at that—I’d just cry,” I said, ashamed. “Don’t you dare,” Stan warned, so, of course, I did, so the phone started ringing, then the doorbell: more phone numbers—my hands, stained clown red from the China marker nub I’d been scrawling them on walls with. Then I saw the black limousine go by again—still circling for days now. So close I could touch it. The tires, at least. “Do we still have that box of carpet tacks?”

 

Jennifer L. Knox is the author of the poetry collections Days of Shame and Failure, The Mystery of the Hidden Driveway, Drunk by Noon, and A Gringo Like Me, all on Bloof Books. Her poems have appeared four times in the Best American Poetry series as well as in the anthologies Great American Prose Poems, From Poe to Present, and Best American Erotic Poems. Her work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, the New Yorker and American Poetry Review. Jennifer received her B.A. from the University of Iowa and her M.F.A. in poetry from New York University. She has taught creative writing at Hunter College and New York University and lectured at colleges and universities across the country. Visit jenniferlknox.com.

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Transition Poem 65 @ Jan. 12, 2017

Laura McCullough
And Also Sunflowers

—after the election, 2016

Distracting myself, I discover the year 1510,
an interesting one, recall the old Chinese curse:
May you live in interesting times.    The election
 
turned, and it was only you I wanted
      to talk to, but you’d changed the way you’d voted
about our marriage.          My grown son called;
 
white and with guns, he said, “The revolution
is coming, and I’ll protect you,” but knowing
the different triggers       we’d each pulled that day
 
only made me feel lost in the maze of our loves’ histories.
           My private civilization seemed
twisted, every passage a dead end, and the morning
 
after, people walked looking down as if distrusting
even their own feet, and I felt strange community
in our grief.        No wonder I am looking back
 
at other times.      That week, the unearthed skeletons
of a mother and baby lain precisely
      on a spread swan’s wing made me weep
 
because you aren’t here.  I can only describe
the feathered gesture in the six thousand year old grave
      as majestic though the word for elegance
 
wouldn’t be invented until 1510.  Also that year,
England’s Henry VIII was 18, a boy-man with a world
     of violence yet to manifest in his future,
 
the Portuguese General Albuquerque,
      Christian empire builder, would conquer part of India
for the spices—black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom—
 
calling it trade, and the 10th emperor of the Ming Dynasty
would defeat a rebellion involving a prince, a eunuch,
     and the perennial issue of tax reform.      Oh,
 
in that year, a random one, so much occurred, and this, too:
      the first pocket watch was built in Germany.
I am trying hard to think about time, how it grows,
 
collapses in moments of loss or betrayal, our fascination
      with the gears of humanity, how one person’s future
is another’s past, one culture’s colonization is another’s “settling.”
             
       Yesterday, in a public space, a woman admired my ring,
then crossed the borders of our bodies to touch my bare arm
       with such tenderness of invasion that my throat
 
loosened and the hairs on my neck
       shivered like feathers riffling.   I almost felt
unafraid.     Later, at twilight, my neighbor once
 
again shooing deer from his untended shrubs,
      arms overhead, looked as if he were being
chased by something terrible and dangerous.
           
     My son may have wanted to make me feel safe.
     My husband may feel shame and guilt alone
in his rented hut.  I take everything in so personally.  
           
     My life is interesting, and I feel cursed,
though there is no such thing as that “Chinese curse”.
     The phrase was popularized when Robert Kennedy
 
used it in his “Day of Affirmation Speech” in 1966
at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.
It came first from the English ambassador to China
 
in his 1949 memoir.
       It may have come from this expression:
"寧為太平犬,莫做亂離人"
             
    (nìng wéi tàipíng quǎn, mò zuò luàn lí rén)
which I read is translated as
Better to be a dog in a peaceful time,
           
       than a human in a warring one,
but when I tried to verify this myself
in Google Translate I got: For the Pacific dog,
           
      do not leave people from chaos,
so surreal, it feels right right now.    Turning back
      to 1510, it turns out sunflowers are American,
 
cultivated by the First People’s of New Mexico
and Arizona.         Spanish explorers brought them
     to Europe, and then they were cultivated in Russia,
 
and in 1887, late in a Paris summer, Van Gogh
painted four canvases with rings of yellow
      feathery leaves around seed-heart discs, seeds
 
that, ground or pounded into flour, make
cakes and bread, and I’ve read the pulped
      roots can even draw poison from a snakebite.
 
It was the Italians who patented, in 1716, squeezing
       the seeds for oil, and today, the biggest fields
are found in Tuscany and described as endless. Closer
           
      to home, in the New Jersey farmlands most people
don’t know exist, one can get lost in a sunflower maze
      at  Liberty Farm for just $10 per adult, $6 for kids,
 
though a recent sign—No Drones Please—
seems so complicatedly American. Bobby Kennedy’s speech
     in South Africa is also called
 
“The Ripple of Hope” and he spoke against apartheid,
and for the effect of individual efforts:

A young monk began the Protestant Reformation, a young general extended an empire from Macedonia to the borders of the earth, and a young woman reclaimed the territory of France. It was a young Italian explorer who discovered the New World, and 32 year old Thomas Jefferson who proclaimed that all men are created equal.
 
All males, yes, and the unexamined issues of classism, racism, sexism,
       were only beginning to be seen as  poisons
needing antidotes,               
                         and I was just eight
 
when a young Palestinian man shot and killed him,
the train with his body going from Boston to DC,
my family and me standing in a string of knots,
 
our community of Irish and Italians and Poles lined
along the tracks in Merrill Park, the women crying,
and whispering “Not another one.”           
                             Was it the year
 
I became politically conscious? Began to wonder
about the ways we are connected?  I had not
heard nor read:
 
It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped each time a [person] stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice. [S/h]e sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest wall of oppression and resistance.
 
Nor had I seen Van Gogh’s sunflowers, all those blind eyes,
nor understood the seed head pattern
is Fibonacci, named after the Italian who used
 
the discovery by the poet Virahanka living in India
in the 6th century.                
                   I don’t understand
       math, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling
 
as I look at the whirled flowers, paint strokes for seeds
       a pattern discovered and then explained
by people on different continents,
                              but I can see
 
the fallen petals of family, community, and country
as exposing patterns so complex and embedded in time—
the many futures of so many people’s pasts—that I am both
 
awed by the elegance and terrified of what will come
to pass, feeling alone and hopeless but trying to believe  
in one thing: time, both endless and terminal.

 

Laura McCullough is the author of The Wild Night Dress (University of Arkansas Press, 2017) selected by Billy Collins in the Miller Williams Poetry Prize Series. Her other books of poems include Jersey Mercy, Rigger Death & Hoist Another, and Speech Acts (Black Lawrence Press), Panic (Alice James Books), What Men Want (XOXOX Press), and The Dancing Bear (Open Book Press). She curated two anthologies of essays on poetry, A Sense of Regard: Essays on Poetry and Race (University of Georgia Press) and The Room and the World: Essays on the Poet Stephen Dunn (University of Syracuse Press). Her prose and poetry have appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, The Southern Review, The Georgia Review, The American Poetry Review, Guernica, Pank, Gulf Coast, The Writer’s Chronicle, Best American Poetry, and others. She teaches full time at Brookdale Community College in NJ, is on the faculty of the Sierra Nevada low-res MFA, and has taught for Ramapo College and Stockton University. She is the founding editor of Mead: the Magazine of Literature and Libations. Visit lauramccullough.org.

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Transition Poem 64 @ Jan. 11, 2017

Sharon Dolin
A Momentary Stay Against Confusion

Why not prolonged confusion
against a momentary stay

or a momentary confusion
against a longer stay

why not a momentary lay
against contusion

why choose clarity
over confusion

and the moment over
the continuing confusion of

every world’s stay

and why against
instead of for

a momentary stay for
confusion

confusing moments
for the staying.

 

Sharon Dolin is the author of six poetry collections, most recently, Manual for Living, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2016. The recipient of a 2016 PEN/Heim Translation Fund grant, she directs and teaches in Writing About Art in Barcelona each June.

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