Fragment

by A.E. Stallings

The glass does not break because it is glass,
Said the philosopher. The glass could stay
Unbroken forever, shoved back in a dark closet,
Slowly weeping itself, a colorless liquid.
The glass breaks because somebody drops it
From a height — a grip stunned open by bad news
Or laughter. A giddy sweep of grand gesture
Or fluttering nerves might knock it off the table —
Or perhaps wine emptied from it, into the blood,
Has numbed the fingers. It breaks because it falls
Into the arms of the earth — that grave attraction.
It breaks because it meets the floor’s surface,
Which is solid and does not give. It breaks because
It is dropped, and falls hard, because it hits
Bottom, and because nobody catches it.


From Hapax, Northwestern University Press, 2006

What the writer says about the poem: This was a somewhat experimental poem for me when I wrote it (probably ten years ago). The idea that a fragile glass doesn’t break because it is fragile, but because something violent happens to it (it is dropped, something hits it), was from a lecture in a physics class in college; the concept struck me and changed my perception. Waving my poetic license, I changed the physicist to a philosopher. I wanted to write about a broken heart without mentioning the word “heart”—and enjoyed the word-play that might tie the two together—“somebody drops it,” “falls hard” etc. But of course it is about any fragile vessel, it still about the actual glass, and the physicist/philosopher. On a literal plane, I have dropped my share of glasses, and I’m sure the poem was partly triggered by an actual incident of clumsiness. More about A.E. Stallings.

Stillbirth

by Laure-Anne Bosselaar

On a platform, I heard someone call out your name:
No, Laetitia, no.
It wasn’t my train—the doors were closing,
but I rushed in, searching for your face.

But no Laetitia. No.
No one in that car could have been you,
but I rushed in, searching for your face:
no longer an infant. A woman now, blond, thirty-two.

No one in that car could have been you.
Laetitia-Marie was the name I had chosen.
No longer an infant. A woman now, blond, thirty-two:
I sometimes go months without remembering you.

Laetitia-Marie was the name I had chosen:
I was told not to look. Not to get attached—
I sometimes go months without remembering you.
Some griefs bless us that way, not asking much space.

I was told not to look. Not to get attached.
It wasn’t my train—the doors were closing.
Some griefs bless us that way, not asking much space.
On a platform, I heard someone calling your name.


From A New Hunger,  Ausable Press

What the writer says about the poem: Some poems need years of revisions to find their shape, form and tone, and “Stillbirth” was one of them. It took me decades to “let it go” at last, and only because I had been able to finally distill a long, 3 page sectional poem into fewer and fewer lines. But I kept wanting to repeat some of those lines and suddenly thought of the pantoum. It’s only after the pantoum’s third draft that I felt the repetitions worked — and that some of the lines acquired a different dimension as the pantoum progressed. I could finally let the elegy that had haunted me for decades go into the world. About Laure-Anne Bosselaar.

Waiting

by George Bilgere

When the guy in the dark suit
Asks me if I want to see my mother
As she lies in the back room, waiting,
I remember her, for some reason,
In a white swimsuit, on a yellow towel
On the sand at Crystal Lake,
Pregnant with my sister,
Waiting for me to finish examining
The sleek fuselage of a minnow,
The first dead thing I had ever seen,
Before we went back to the cottage for lunch.

I remember her waiting up for my father
To come home from God knows where
In a yellow cab at 2:00 AM
And waiting for me in the school parking lot
In our old blue station wagon
When whatever it was I was practicing for
Ran late. I remember her, shoulders thrown back,
Waiting in the unemployment line, waiting
For me to call, waiting for the sweet release
In the second glass of wine
After a long day working at the convalescent hospital
Where everyone was waiting to die.

And I remember her waiting for me
At the airport when I got back from Japan,
Waiting for everything to be all right,
Waiting for her biopsy results.
Waiting.

But when the guy in the dark suit
Asks if I would like to go back
And be with her in that room where she lies
Waiting to be cremated I say No
Thank you, and turn and walk out
Onto the sunny street to join the crowd
Hustling down the sidewalk
And I look up at the beautiful
White clouds suspended above the city,
Leaving her in that room to wait alone,
For which I will not be forgiven.


This poem first appeared in The Missouri Review.

What the writer says about the poem: I suppose “Waiting” falls into that category of poems inspired by the perpetual guilt experienced by poets and pretty much the rest of human kind over the fact that once our parents are gone it’s too late to ever quite make things right with them. If only I’d done this, said that, while there was still time. Maybe all such poems are rituals of expiation, tiny confessional booths from which we emerge feeling slightly better. One problem with life–with the whole set up–is that you can’t go back and change things. Who came up with such a lousy system? Worse, the only person who can really forgive us our trespasses is, of course, us. And we can be so hard on ourselves, which is the price of honesty. So, being human, we write a poem or a song, have a glass of wine, and hope things get better. More about George Bilgere.

Folly Beach

by Christine Swint

Wet sand near breakers reflects clouds, pale sky.
I should be in heaven, but I’m not.
I want someone to crack my heart open,
make it as wide as the beach,
beating in rhythm with the waves.
I think of the Buddhist monk called One Finger
Gutei Isshi, who answered questions about
the Dharma by raising one finger, a silent signal
I imagine like the icons of St. John
the Baptist gesturing toward God.

Gutei Isshi once cut off a student’s finger
to teach the boy a lesson. As the boy ran,
clutching his fallen finger, One Finger
called to him. When the boy turned his head,
One Finger pointed toward the sky.
They say he stopped the boy’s mind.

If Gutei Isshi strolled beside me,
his saffron robes trailing in the surf,
he’d reach his pointer finger
under my sternum, strum the aorta,
pluck the ventricle, and then,
in a curl of a digit, he’d dig out my heart
and fling it into the bottle-green waves.

What I want in place of a heart: a chest cavity
as wide as the space between stars.

Pelicans skim the water for fish, gulls call,
a toddler runs down shore from her mother,
jellyfish spill on the wet sand, breezes
carry the scent of sea muck. In the heaven
I desire, my skin dissolves in the salt air
and the sun steams my skeleton to a mist.


First published in Flycatcher Journal

What the writer says about the poem: A few years ago, when I was recovering from a turbulent bout of depression and anxiety, I took a trip to Folly Beach in South Carolina with my sister and her daughter, a toddler at the time. The place was beautiful, but I was feeling miserable inside. I thought of a quote I had read by Emerson, something to the effect that the beauty of nature is a reflection of the beauty in one’s mind, and I realized I just couldn’t see the beauty because of the pain I was experiencing. I needed the intercession of this radical Buddhist monk, Gutei Ishi, to slice my heart out and stop my mind. Gutei Ishi comes from a line of mystics and religious figures sometimes referred to as holy fools, people who use extreme measures to shock a person into enlightenment. By invoking the name of this holy fool, I feel the weightlessness of bliss by the last line of the poem. That’s the joy of poetry–I start by imagining a monk snatching my heart out and tossing it into the waves, but I end up imagining myself into a place of expansion and wellbeing. To create something, we have to imagine it first. 

About Christine Swint.