Confession

Just one time, in a friendly way with this sweet woman,
her arm in your arm, no brassy politics,
apply yourself with tenderness to the memory of your own fears
solemnly, like a river at night,
it’s late but try anyway, there’s no medal, or even a job
we know you’re full of tears
we’re not asleep, we’re restless for the truth.

We didn’t sit on our porches waiting for you to grow up,
you moved like a furtive cat, your ear to the door,
while we were watching the clouds, not you.
There’ll be no coup, no ultimate liberty, no crystal clarity.
From your chair, no rich and sonorous voice only a painful squeak
captive, plaintive, then combative
no guilt, no remorse, only sounding brass, tinkling cymbals
like a chastised child, somber and immobile
having to face his family.

Your certainties are a long shot
you’re caught in the eye of the world
secrets no longer hidden in the past.
‘Poor Angel’ some sing, your pardoners’ charade
‘There’s nothing here, nothing certain, we’ll take care of you.’

Betrayed by your own ego, not a beautiful woman,
one you tried to turn banal,
now you dance to a fool’s tune:
his forced handshake
and maniacal smile.
He breaks our hearts and soils everything
with rhetoric of scorning then forgetting
no enchantment, no longing
no thoughtful love
only con games, whispers, and then silence.
There will be no confession.

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Angry Cries

Fans spread out their arms
and wave continuously,
trying to disperse
the shadows that dance,
twirling and tapping
in the orchard of broken trees,
their hands pulling at each other,
at the wind.
Their fists pump the air
the clouds storming,
screaming above them.
A tornado of black wings
and feather kings
(tap tap-tap tap-tap).
Fall asleep in the breeze.
Flaming eyes,
sea-worthy bees.
All listen to the shadows cries.

Lina Curry

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Teleprompter

on the eve of high winds
sometimes several shredding the now
all of us seeking shelter
the leader’s lack of tone
dimming the lights
debt narrowing us all
millions of souls without roofs
disaster voyeurs chasing storms
hurricanes signifying the end of ease
even the elite without safe windows
there are no quiet rivers

who are the era’s saviours?

I vow to signify
to put a roof on in the void

from Lina Curry’s backwards writing of: ‘My mind not only wanders it sometimes leaves completely.’ and ‘You fight for the things you think are worthwhile, and you eventually lose the things you take for granted.’

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rain-swept

finny atoms, shivering as I write, and trumpets in the bones
endorsing the season, taking aim and then missing
damp desire, antsy anticipation at the core
my town car vandalized by crows

bleak drama of summer chill
playing a slow gyre in black tights
my better self keeping time with the tides
as the water rises I open my crow-like wings

rain no longer sweet, you’d choose this weather for a funeral
and invite those distant cousins whom you never liked
how can we rein in the climate, this bastard season

permanently pale at the wrong time of year
if nothing else the night still has phases of the moon
two by two we sleep through other people’s emergencies

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Shadows of Hiroshima

you lie down in the artist’s trance
translating your selves onto pavement
assuming annihilation

with coloured chalk
you vaporize yourselves
leaving reminders for the dawn

sidewalks strewn with auras
around the disappeared

two-dimensional ghosts
prostrate before invisible firestorms

mundane activity obliterated
for a pantheon of shadows

the lost child
the short walk
the blasted briefcase

the muted dove in pieces

clouds of radon
around a vanishing fraction

this one went around the corner and
never was seen again

here she held the child’s hand
as they stepped out the door
into a subatomic future

this one ran off to a school
that no longer exists

here is the gesture of
someone departing on a train
that will never arrive

this is the trail of a runner
who lost the race

she stared too long

he left only his choreography

you transform yourselves into emblems

your bodies circumscribed

you make yourselves a mystery
but you are not yet gone

you come back the next day
and your shadows have been washed away with the rain

The Shadow Project refers to the description of what happened when the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. According to Helen Caldicott, MD, “Because the human body is composed mostly of water, it turns into gas when exposed to thousands of degrees Celsius. When the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945… there was a blinding flash, and [a little boy reaching to catch a red dragonfly] disappeared leaving only the shadow of his body on the pavement behind him.” The Shadow Project attempts to replicate this powerful image in order to remind the public of the horrors of a nuclear war.

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Ghosts of War

I hear them gearing up for battle –
old war-horses brought back
to drill us with intemperate speech.
Mothers and fathers, wives and children
urged on to crowd the roadsides and cheer.
We’re here again, but this time,
mourning. Our cries break amid the traffic,
warn raw recruits to question their orders,
ask them to consider where they’re going.

‘We joined young when our numbers came up.
We man the frontier wherever that might be.
And now the old men are sending us out again.
You will soon be tying yellow ribbons on trees.
We’re either in their jails or at their wars
Leaving everything to our women.’

Imperial dreams are revived in secret
while weeds grow in the centre of the city
and basic needs of many remain unmet.
We ask for security in our own country
but the young are sent to foreign lands
where blood disappears in the sand.

Reporters ask us gently
if we’ve recovered from the storm.
Have we repossessed our own houses?
Have our neighbours returned?
What do immigrant households face
when clerks are free to discriminate?
None of our friends evaded taxes;
but none of them are allowed to vote.

Bodies drowned on desperate journeys
lie unclaimed along the shores of nearby seas.
Under grey skies we join the voices of hungry ghosts.

based on Tu Fu’s Song of the War-Carts

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Cadence #9

Are poems just cut-up sentences? Let’s look at the work of a poet who does precisely that.

Philip Levine’s sixty-three line poem, Scouting, is composed of fourteen complete sentences which vary in their number of lines in the poem from one to eight. The longest sentence contains a total of forty-two words but each line is truncated after five or at most eight words. Seven of those fourteen sentences are enjambed, and all are arranged on short, centred lines with no breaks into verses. The line breaks throw into relief the last word of a line — nothing, somewhere, I, woman — creating powerful compact phrases within the flow of the narrative. This poem, like many in his collection, What Work Is, has concision and depth and suggests a much larger story.

The poetic narrative begins with ‘the man who gets off the bus’. Levine is that man and he meets a woman who asks him what he wants. The memory of that question, 40 years after she asks him, takes on a new meaning when he declares to us that ‘No,/ it was yesterday…’ and all the details are still available to him. His poem, seemingly staying close to memory and storytelling, goes ‘higher up the mountain’ and ‘nowhere, in darkness’. The ‘you’ he addresses in the poem, appearing at first to be the reader, may be read as his earlier self and also as the older writer addressed by that earlier self. Levine is clear that he doesn’t have the answers to the many questions that resonate in this short poem; he’s ‘scouting, getting the feel of the land’. The accretion of rhythmically written, connotative sentences builds into a fully realized poem.

Is prose simply a series of sentences that aren’t cut up? If ‘prose’ is made up of these personal, allusive and powerful sentences, in this particular order, with these considered line lengths, then let’s call it poetry.

Nicholas Power

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