My Sister’s Last Gift

by Joe Benevento

Memories seem more fragile and so
authentic in black and white.  The photo
from 1957 Barbara framed for me
captures our Grandpa Frank's last
birthday: he sits all sides surrounded
rich only in grandchildren.
Among the fifteen present, the five
Beneventos born by then— Barbara, a favorite
at four on grandpa's lap— me, off to one side
crying, holding some little object I can't
now identify, hoisted up to camera range
by my smiling oldest sister Rose Anne.

Barbara herself never gave me the gift;
it was among the Christmas presents
in a padded envelope she still hadn't mailed
in February, that shortest month
when she died.

To receive a gift photo featuring
a man you never had time
to know, from a sister you will lack
for the rest of your loss-fueled life:
small wonder I'm caught a baby
crying forever in its small, dark
frame.

School Year

by Joe Benevento

When a child, I understood the season
of dying coinciding with the start
of school. I recall one early September
Sunday night when it became cold enough
for my mother to place blankets on us
after we were already in our beds,
as if to snug us away from escape
from the next morning's ordering bells.
At sixty, I prefer order so well
I profess it for a living at a U.
Summer so soon gone hardly bothers me.
Instead the beach, flowers, songbirds, short nights
almost annoy me: I embrace the start
of another ending with each class I teach.

Nudes

by Stephen Gibson

Richard Avedon

The real shocker is the celebrity and not the nude.
Natassja Kinski with the boa constrictor is a pose.
Warhol and that band is anyone without clothes
until you see that it’s Warhol there, and that goes
for Christy Turlington who’s just a model from Vogue
until you know, or Ginsberg giving Orlovsky tongue,
or the young Nureyev in Paris, so alive, and hung.

 

Diane Arbus, Germaine Greer

Believe that this woman tasted her menstrual blood.
Or believed that western society existed to suppress
women and knew the means: to separate their sex
from them, leaving them fearful to be understood,
and, without men, nothing—The Female Eunuch
from too much protein in urine in the preeclampsia
diagnosis, to Greer’s portrait in Australia on a stamp.

 

Annie Leibovitz

Celebrity feeds upon everything and itself is food
and is never exhausted and is never satisfied,
finds pregnant Demi, ready to drop, in the nude
perfect for this occasion and only for this time;
if repeated (other naked Johns with Yokos), deified
in the original (thou shalt have one, not a multitude):
our burden, to know their future: her divorce, how he died.

 

Man Ray

The Classicism of solarized women posed as caryatids
holding up the temple; the Postmodernist droplets
dropped onto thighs before there was Photoshop;
the Surrealism of a nude woman becoming a cello
with F-holes, tail spike, belly, bridge, and pegbox;
Europe’s exuberance after the Great War: batting eyelids,
fucking doggy-style, kewpie doll mouth sucking cock.

 

Edward Weston

The erotic is nowhere to be found in these tableaux.
There is nothing to suggest they eat, fuck, are capable
of birth, will die, be put into the ground and decompose.
Settings change: Hopi reservation, West as memorial
to some vanished myth that no one really has to know
(fake as a Wyeth Saturday Evening Post Thanksgiving table).
He did better showing erotic resemblances in vegetables.

 

Cindy Sherman

Disarticulated doll parts, like L.A.’s Black Dahlia
separated by several feet of grass in a vacant lot
(Elizabeth Short discarded like a mannequin in what
would become one of Hollywood’s musts for film noir);
female doll heads, at a hacked plastic female torso, watch
a tampon string at bottom, a cock with cock ring at top:
clearly, women objectified (and some men’s darker desire).

 

R. Crumb

Someone in my generation would’ve drawn Snatch Comics
if he hadn’t already, not only because of the weed shit
and LSD and free-love shit, but simply to see Crumb’s us
with our heads disappearing up a woman’s ass at a bus stop
(telling us to hurry because the bus is coming), or to catch
a hooker off-guard (saying “Excuse me” as we jiggle her clit)—
anything to keep away the jungle and napalm and the ditch.

One Way of Looking at Grace

by Elizabeth J. Coleman

For 150 million years birds saw
their reflections only in the sea,

but now the last typewriter repair
shop in New York is going out

of business, and monk parrots
nest in Sheepshead bay.  Still

that fire escape casts a lovely shadow,
the way the wheel of a slow-moving

bicycle seems to slow time,
gorillas stay up all night to groom
their dead, and a woman in Ohio

who’d been laid off gave every building
in her town a new coat  of paint. 

What’s your name?  I asked
the woman at the post office
who takes my packages
and tells me about her cruises
to the Bahamas with her mother
and sister, and how much they love
the all-you-can-eat buffet.

Grace, she said, I thought you knew.

Island

by Ernest Hilbert

1.

Coffee did little to wake us since we arrived
On the volcano. We only wanted to sleep.
A clear summer morning smeared and bruised

As we tore the tiny car along narrow
Mountain passes over a frothing, fanged coast.
At tight shadowed curves, headlamps lit warnings

Painted on the streaked mineral walls,
Some word the locals use that we didn’t know.
We spun down a tightly wound switchback

To a small white village tucked among boulders.

 

2.

The villagers scarcely noticed us.
One slowly swept dust from the porch of a red house
That seemed like it might slough into the water.

Another watched from a high window,
But it may have been a retreating flash
Of sun. Our sandals crunched down on shards,

Smashed aquatic armor of blue crabs.
We located a thin steep trail hacked out
Of stone over the water. We took it.

It worried its slender way along the caldera.

 

3.

At trail’s end, we came upon a jagged spit
Over the submerged rim where heavy green
Water went black and the bottom dropped

Quickly down into the bottomless throat.
Another couple, just dried, dressed themselves there.
We waved, and they greeted us in return.

The man gestured vaguely to the island
And said something we didn’t understand.
They lingered for a while, as we undressed,

Awkwardly. We leapt from the jagged sill.

 

4.

Under, we saw enormous ancient chains
Blur faintly link by link into the murk.
We swam, as thin light receded further, toward

The ferocious rocky mass that shot up
Like the top of a tower from small waves.
We floated around to the far side of the island,

Craned our necks, breathed, and treaded water,
Shocked to find a temple carved in its side.
A wet black chain snaked up the sheer face.

I hauled my air-chilled body to the ledge.

 

5.

Then I coaxed you, as you floated, unsure,
In the darkening water, until you pulled
Yourself up as well, took my hand. We appraised

The fierce faces of what felt like gods,
Or their champions, worn by endless rains.
We peered deeper in, listened, but heard nothing.

How long had it been here? Did anyone
Still visit, or was it something lived with
So long it was forgotten, once hidden from view?

The sun rapidly embered out on the edge.

 

6.

Then it pitched darker, and it was night
Sooner than we expected. Neither
Of us had the strength, or nerve,

To reenter the water and swim back.
We shivered and slowly dried in wind
That fluted through the massive gnarled figures.

We heard something, distinct from the waves
Splashing toward us around the island.
We looked out into the older dark as it neared.

We gripped our knees to our chests, and waited. 

What I Did Not See Driving from Swansea

by Sarah Kennedy

Not the grave of Henry Vaughan, tombed
              by the yew at the top of that

tourists’ churchyard,
                                      not the sheela
              on her half shell of museum

plinth in Llandrindod Wells.
                                            And not
              the ruined round foundation wall

of the tower at Dolforwyn
              (where I stumbled over lovers

in the grass—a mirror to my
              burning, illicit face [record

heat—my trespass]).
                                      Not Dinas Bran,
              where, from the top, the suicide

bridge that cuts through Llangollen was
              visible as highlighter marked

on the map-sized town.
                                            Nor was it
the “largest mill wheel in Wales,”
                                                          nor

the badger that slunk from the path,
              my car’s headlamps, one midnight.
                                                                 No.

Just you—
                      smile across a room or
              a body moving over mine—

though my mind’s eye held you even
              as I watched the kites—
                                            they could not

be missed, wheeling outside my room—
              even as I studied the door

that opened and opened itself—
              though nothing (that I could see) came

through, and no one had stopped off there,
              at that roadside hotel, but me.

Zip Street Blues

by Salgado Maranhão. Translated by Alexis Levitin.

the rage of diesel horses
rolls
to the trotting of
the tendoned days.

strays smashed to tin
beneath  the press of tires
                                       –and beastly human beings.

(all in transit
some not yet intransigent
others already late
accompanying their bodies to the wake.)

and the afternoon roars: rust
and the breeze burns: soot.

Moviement

by Salgado Maranhão. Translated by Alexis Levitin.

now it’s another landscape
written
         on the plasma
and in the mist
                      flowing
between one’s fingers
like eager birds
                      slipping through
the wind.
now it is another scaffold
of pieces playing chess
with chance:
the city and its clouded corneas.

mornings AR-15
afternoons AK-47
delinquents among rats
and big-shots’ shit.

the city in all its to-do
gulping down hot-dogmas,
sucking mint drops of death.

Letter to Daniel G. Hoffman

by John Ridland

Dear Dan,

There are dead poets I would never dare
               to write a letter to:
“Dear Mr. Frost?” “Dear Mr. Eliot?”
               But your last book,
optimistically titled: next to last 
               words, seems to invite reply.
I’ll try no critical reading, even appreciation,
               poem by poem. That would be
fun if you were still around––not that you’re not
               around still, with this book
atop the pile of thirteen others, plus
               eight prose, and plus
some edited others: you were one hell of a
               productive poet!
Now writing you a letter seems familiar,
               since we conversed
only in letters, after one brief hello,
               introduced by Natalie Anderson
of Swarthmore College, where you
               had taught, and I a student
you could have taught if decades had not
               held us apart. So what
can I now have to say? I hope you’re happy
               in the good name
Fame’s giving you. And your next to last words
               are messages to us
from where you are––the Future Present Tense
                  where we will all
be sentenced in the same last paragraph.
               [This may continue.]
                                                Briefly your friend,
                                                                                   John Ridland