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Response to Print of Kudzu, Texas by Laura Plageman

This Week’s Paired: Laura Plageman + Janice N. Harrington

Shaking the Grass

Evening, and all my ghosts come back to me
like red banty hens to catalpa limbs
and chicken-wired hutches, clucking, clucking,
and falling, at last, into their head-under-wing sleep.

I think about the field of grass I lay in once,
between Omaha and Lincoln.  It was summer, I think.
The air smelled green, and wands of windy green, a-sway,
a-sway, swayed over me.  I lay on green sod
like a prairie snake letting the sun warm me.

What does a girl think about alone
in a field of grass, beneath a sky as bright
as an Easter dress, beneath a green wind?

Maybe I have not shaken the grass.
All is vanity.

Maybe I never rose from that green field.
All is vanity.

Maybe I did no more than swallow deep, deep breaths
and spill them out into story:  all is vanity.

Maybe I listened to the wind sighing and shivered,
spinning, awhirl amidst the bluestem
and green lashes:  O my beloved!  O my beloved!

I lay in a field of grass once, and then went on.
Even the hollow my body made is gone.

Janice N. Harrington

Waiting by Ian Baguskas

This Week’s PairedIan Baguskas + Mark Jarman

Ground Swell

Is nothing real but when I was fifteen,
Going on sixteen, like a corny song?
I see myself so clearly then, and painfully—
Knees bleeding through my usher’s uniform
Behind the candy counter in the theater
After a morning’s surfing; paddling frantically
To top the brisk outsiders coming to wreck me,
Trundle me clumsily along the beach floor’s
Gravel and sand; my knees aching with salt.
Is that all I have to write about?
You write about the life that’s vividest.
And if that is your own, that is your subject.
And if the years before and after sixteen
Are colorless as salt and taste like sand—
Return to those remembered chilly mornings,
The light spreading like a great skin on the water,
And the blue water scalloped with wind-ridges,
And—what was it exactly?—that slow waiting
When, to invigorate yourself, you peed
Inside your bathing suit and felt the warmth
Crawl all around your hips and thighs,
And the first set rolled in and the water level
Rose in expectancy, and the sun struck
The water surface like a brassy palm,
Flat and gonglike, and the wave face formed.
Yes. But that was a summer so removed
In time, so specially peculiar to my life,
Why would I want to write about it again?
There was a day or two when, paddling out,
An older boy who had just graduated
And grown a great blonde moustache, like a walrus,
Skimmed past me like a smooth machine on the water,
And said my name. I was so much younger,
To be identified by one like him—
The easy deference of a kind of god
Who also went to church where I did—made me
Reconsider my worth. I had been noticed.
He soon was a small figure crossing waves,
The shawling crest surrounding him with spray,
Whiter than gull feathers. He had said my name
Without scorn, just with a bit of surprise
To notice me among those trying the big waves
Of the morning break. His name is carved now
On the black wall in Washington, the frozen wave
That grievers cross to find a name or names.
I knew him as I say I knew him, then,
Which wasn’t very well. My father preached
His funeral. He came home in a bag
That may have mixed in pieces of his squad.
Yes, I can write about a lot of things
Besides the summer that I turned sixteen.
But that’s my ground swell. I must start
Where things began to happen and I knew it. 

Mark Jarman

City Lights United States of America, a 20x200 Vintage Edition

This Week’s Paired: NASA + Claude McKay

America

Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth.
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate,
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet, as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand,
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.

Claude McKay

Untitled, from the series Aggressive Girls by Chikara Umihara

This Week’s Paired: Chikara Umihara + Audre Lorde

For Each of You

Be who you are and will be
learn to cherish that boistrous Black Angel that drives you
up one day and down another
protecting the place where your power rises
running like hot blood
from the same source
as your pain.

When you are hungry
learn to eat
whatever sustains you
until morning
but do not be misled by details
simply because you live them.

Do not let your head deny
your hands
any memory of what passes through them
nor your eyes
nor your heart
everything can be useful
except what is wasteful
(you will need 
to remember this when you are accused of destruction.)

Even when they are dangerous
examine the heart of those machines you hate
before you discard them
and never mourn the lack of their power
lest you be condemned
to relive them.
If you do not learn to hate
you will never be lonely
enough
to love easily
nor will you always be brave
although it does not grow any easier

Do not pretend to convenient beliefs
even when they are righteous
you will never be able to defend your city
while shouting.

Remember our sun
is not the most noteworthy star
only the nearest.

Respect whatever pain you bring back
from your dreaming
but do not look for new gods
in the sea
nor in any part of a rainbow
Each time you love
love as deeply
as if it were 
forever
only nothing is 
eternal.

Speak proudly to your children
where ever you may find them
tell them
you are the offspring of slaves
and your mother was
a princess
in darkness.

Audre Lorde

Winter Kitchen by Tamara Thomsen

This Week’s Paired: Tamara Thomsen + Jessica Greenbaum

For a Traveler

I only have a moment so let me tell you the shortest story,
about arriving at a long loved place, the house of friends in Maine,
their lawn of wildflowers, their grandfather clock and candid
portraits, their gabled attic rooms, and woodstove in the kitchen,
all accessories of the genuine summer years before, when I was
their son’s girlfriend and tied an apron behind my neck, beneath
my braids, and took from their garden the harvest for a dinner
I would make alone and serve at their big table with the gladness
of the found, and loved. The eggplant shone like polished wood,
the tomatoes smelled like their furred collars, the dozen zucchini
lined up on the counter like placid troops with the onions, their
minions, and I even remember the garlic, each clove from its airmail
envelope brought to the cutting board, ready for my instruction.
And in this very slight story, a decade later, I came by myself,
having been dropped by the airport cab, and waited for the family
to arrive home from work. I walked into the lawn, waist-high
in the swaying, purple lupines, the subject of   June’s afternoon light
as I had never been addressed — a displaced young woman with
cropped hair, no place to which I wished to return, and no one
to gather me in his arms. That day the lupines received me,
and I was in love with them, because they were all I had left,
and in that same manner I have loved much of the world since then,
and who is to say there is more of a reason, or more to love?

Jessica Greenbaum

Blackford Forest by Laura Bell

This Week’s Paired: Laura Bell + Robert Frost

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

Insects and Myriapods at The American Museum of Natural History by Jason Polan

This Week’s Paired: Jason Polan + Oliver Wendell Holmes

To an Insect

I love to hear thine earnest voice,
Wherever thou art hid,
Thou testy little dogmatist,
Thou pretty Katydid!
Thou mindest me of gentlefolks,—
Old gentlefolks are they,—
Thou say’st an undisputed thing
In such a solemn way.

Thou art a female, Katydid!
I know it by the trill
That quivers through thy piercing notes,
So petulant and shrill;
I think there is a knot of you
Beneath the hollow tree,—
A knot of spinster Katydids,—
Do Katydids drink tea?

Oh tell me where did Katy live,
And what did Katy do?
And was she very fair and young,
And yet so wicked, too?
Did Katy love a naughty man,
Or kiss more cheeks than one?
I warrant Katy did no more
Than many a Kate has done.

Dear me!  I’ll tell you all about
My fuss with little Jane,
And Ann, with whom I used to walk
So often down the lane,
And all that tore their locks of black,
Or wet their eyes of blue,—
Pray tell me, sweetest Katydid,
What did poor Katy do?

Ah no! the living oak shall crash,
That stood for ages still,
The rock shall rend its mossy base
And thunder down the hill,
Before the little Katydid
Shall add one word, to tell
The mystic story of the maid
Whose name she knows so well.

Peace to the ever-murmuring race!
And when the latest one
Shall fold in death her feeble wings
Beneath the autumn sun,
Then shall she raise her fainting voice,
And lift her drooping lid,
And then the child of future years
Shall hear what Katy did.

Oliver Wendell Holmes

Lilies, Corolla by Daniel Seung Lee

This Week’s PairedDaniel Seung Lee + Pablo Neruda 

If You Forget Me

I want you to know
one thing. 

You know how this is: 
if I look 
at the crystal moon, at the red branch 
of the slow autumn at my window, 
if I touch 
near the fire 
the impalpable ash 
or the wrinkled body of the log, 
everything carries me to you, 
as if everything that exists, 
aromas, light, metals, 
were little boats 
that sail 
toward those isles of yours that wait for me. 

Well, now, 
if little by little you stop loving me 
I shall stop loving you little by little. 

If suddenly 
you forget me 
do not look for me, 
for I shall already have forgotten you. 

If you think it long and mad, 
the wind of banners 
that passes through my life, 
and you decide 
to leave me at the shore 
of the heart where I have roots, 
remember 
that on that day, 
at that hour, 
I shall lift my arms 
and my roots will set off 
to seek another land. 

But 
if each day, 
each hour, 
you feel that you are destined for me 
with implacable sweetness, 
if each day a flower 
climbs up to your lips to seek me, 
ah my love, ah my own, 
in me all that fire is repeated, 
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten, 
my love feeds on your love, beloved, 
and as long as you live it will be in your arms 
without leaving mine.

Pablo Neruda

Encyclopedia 2 by Valerie Roybal

This Week’s Paired: Valerie Roybal + Barbara Hamby

Ode on Dictionaries

A-bomb is how it begins with a big bang on page
        one, a calculator of sorts whose centrifuge
begets bedouin, bamboozle, breakdance, and berserk,
        one of my mother’s favorite words, hard knock
clerk of clichés that she is, at the moment going ape
        the current rave in the fundamentalist landscape
disguised as her brain, a rococo lexicon
        of Deuteronomy, Job, gossip, spritz, and neocon
ephemera all wrapped up in a pop burrito
        of movie star shenanigans, like a stray Cheeto
found in your pocket the day after you finish the bag,
        tastier than any oyster and champagne fueled fugue
gastronomique you have been pursuing in France
        for the past four months. This 82-year-old’s rants
have taken their place with the dictionary I bought
        in the fourth grade, with so many gorgeous words I thought
I’d never plumb its depths. Right the first time, little girl,
        yet here I am still at it, trolling for pearls,
Japanese words vying with Bantu in a goulash
        I eat daily, sometimes gagging, sometimes with relish,
kleptomaniac in the candy store of language,
        slipping words in my pockets like a non-smudge
lipstick that smears with the first kiss. I’m the demented
        lady with sixteen cats. Sure, the house stinks, but those damned
mice have skedaddled, though I kind of miss them, their cute
        little faces, the whiskers, those adorable gray suits.
No, all beasts are welcome in my menagerie, ark
        of inconsolable barks and meows, sharp-toothed shark,
OED of the deep ocean, sweet compendium
        of candy bars—Butterfingers, Mounds, and M&Ms—
packed next to the tripe and gizzards, trim and tackle
        of butchers and bakers, the painter’s brush and spackle,
quarks and black holes of physicists’ theory. I’m building
        my own book as a mason makes a wall or a gelding
runs round the track—brick by brick, step by step, word by word,
        jonquil by gerrymander, syllabub by greensward,
swordplay by snapdragon, a never-ending parade
       with clowns and funambulists in my own mouth, homemade
treasure chest of tongue and teeth, the brain’s roustabout, rough
        unfurler of tents and trapezes, off-the-cuff
unruly troublemaker in the high church museum
        of the world. O mouth—boondoggle, auditorium,
viper, gulag, gumbo pot on a steamy August
        afternoon—what have you not given me? How I must
wear on you, my Samuel Johnson in a frock coat,
        lexicographer of silly thoughts, billy goat,
X-rated pornographic smut factory, scarfer
        of snacks, prissy smirker, late-night barfly,
you are the megaphone by which I bewitch the world
        or don’t as the case may be. O chittering squirrel,
ziplock sandwich bag, sound off, shut up, gather your words
        into bouquets, folios, flocks of black and flaming birds.
Barbara Hamby

Budapest Zoo by Douglas Friedman

This Week’s PairedDouglas Friedman + Alan Alexander Milne

At the Zoo

There are lions and roaring tigers,
and enormous camels and things,
There are biffalo-buffalo-bisons,
and a great big bear with wings.
There’s a sort of a tiny potamus,
and a tiny nosserus too -
But I gave buns to the elephant
when I went down to the Zoo!

There are badgers and bidgers and bodgers,
and a Super-in-tendent’s House,
There are masses of goats, and a Polar,
and different kinds of mouse,
And I think there’s a sort of a something
which is called a wallaboo -
But I gave buns to the elephant
when I went down to the Zoo!

If you try to talk to the bison,
he never quite understands;
You can’t shake hands with a mingo -
he doesn’t like shaking hands.
And lions and roaring tigers
hate saying, “How do you do?” -
But I give buns to the elephant
when I go down to the Zoo!

Alan Alexander Milne