"The birthday of the world" - Marge Piercy

"The birthday of the world" - Marge Piercy

On the birthday of the world
I begin to contemplate
what I have done and left
undone, but this year
not so much rebuilding

of my perennially damaged
psyche, shoring up eroding
friendships, digging out
stumps of old resentments
that refuse to rot on their own.

No, this year I want to call
myself to task for what
I have done and not done
for peace. How much have
I dared in opposition?

How much have I put
on the line for freedom?
For mine and others?
As these freedoms are pared,
sliced and diced, where

have I spoken out? Who
have I tried to move? In
this holy season, I stand
self-convicted of sloth
in a time when lies choke

the mind and rhetoric
bends reason to slithering
choking pythons. Here
I stand before the gates
opening, the fire dazzling

my eyes, and as I approach
what judges me, I judge
myself. Give me weapons
of minute destruction. Let
my words turn into sparks.
"The Birthday of the World" is from Marge Piercy's collection The Crooked Inheritance [2006]. Illustration: Ben Gulyas

"Group Therapy" - Emily Katherine

"Group Therapy" - Emily Katherine

On Monday, in group, Brandon says
“I just don’t think I can go my entire life without drinking”
he says “some days I’m thinking obliteration is a rational choice
that when the world is this fucked up, why is it so bad
to drown our sorrows every so often, every Friday, every Thursday, every – Day
in  tequila, why’s it so wicked to warm what’s left of our bodies
with wine and the familiar feel of a stranger”
I remind him that in group, we don’t use the F word
I tell him that today we’re talking about powerlessness
that maybe he could contribute to the conversation
since clearly his power is a reflection of his reaction to apathy
Brandon shrugs
says group is bullshit, but he’s mandated to treatment, so he’ll stay

On Wednesday in group, Brandon says.
“sometimes? I think maybe heroin is the only way in, the only entrance to my head that doesn’t hurt
this is the price I pay for comfort
and that seems fair.”
I ask him can we
take it one day at a time
stay in the moment
do the next right thing.
he says “last night I thought about how hard it is to live
how awareness brings responsibility bring weight that I am not strong enough to carry, brings social interaction and it is not a sign of health to be well adjusted to a fucked up world.”
I remind him again that swearing is not allowed in group, ask him
can you express one real emotion without quoting someone else
He says quotes make sense
that he can’t articulate or understand this world
so this is the oppressor’s language but he needs it to speak to me
I say, I know that quote too
I say what are you actually feeling right now
He says sometimes I want to explode,
like I’m disappearing,
a black hole
sometimes I want to die
I say sometimes we all do
welcome to early sobriety
he says fuck group
and leaves

On Friday in group, Brandon doesn’t say anything
group is quiet, soothing
and it’s not until he doesn’t come back after break that I realize to us
silence is how we begin to die
silence is the first gasp of the last act
so I call his PO after group, I try to get someone to talk to me
I leave a message on his voicemail that starts out
with I’m not mad
and ends with please come back
and in the middle somewhere I remind him that we all have those days
I promise him that I’ll carry his thirst in my throat
that if he hangs on, some day he will be asked to hold someone else’s wrists closed
that his thumbs will count heart beats, that he will understand the rhythm then
that he just needs to believe that I believe

On Monday, in group, I say the first person who can scream the loudest wins
and they look back at me with puzzle piece faces
I say today? maybe fuck those self help therapy enthusiasts that teach us acceptance and
maybe fuck me for being one of them
maybe you should accept nothing
because nothing is what we are promised
I say first one to disagree with me out loud wins
and they say nothing
I say tell me one true thing even if it doesn’t belong to you
and they say nothing
I say prove to me that that you’re here
they say Ms. Emily, you’re acting weird today
I say then tell me
can’t you see how easy it is to disappear
and they say
Ms. Emily speak up, we can’t even hear

"Group Therapy" appears online at Emily Katherine's blog Gut Punch Poetry. She is the next featured reader at Athens Word of Mouth open mic event, Wednesday, January 4 at The Globe. Sign-up is at 7 pm and readings begin at 8 pm. [Illustration: Fred Tomaselli, "Airborne Event."]

"A merry little Christmas sonnet" - T. Eulenspiegel

"A merry little Christmas sonnet" - T. Eulenspiegel

Maybe it would be better if Christmas came
Earlier in the year. June would be a pleasant month -- adults
Relaxing in the hammock while the schoolkids,
Released from their labors, fly away like spinning tops
Yelling about summer vacation and Santa in the same breath. Or
Cheers! in August, that hellish month when nothing
Happens. A month with no holiday is un-American, 
Really, and one with no shopping to call its own.
Is it too much to wish that sometime between July and
September we might enjoy a merry little Christmas,
Take our holiday without storm and snow, with no
Mad dashes to the store for eggnog. Drink our rum mojitos instead!
... Ah, what's the use -- the kids will be bored in December, and
Someone will still bring fruitcake with the weight of lead.

Till Eulenspiegel is a trickster figure in Germany, Denmark, Bohemia, Poland, and Italy who plays practical jokes on his contemporaries, exposing vices at every turn: greed and folly, hypocrisy and foolishness. The literal translation of the High German name "Eulenspiegel" is "owl mirror," two symbols that have been used to identify him since the 16th century.

"Xmas Words" - Roy Blount Jr.

Xmas Words
By Roy Blount Jr.

It is at this special time of the year, and especially of this extra-special year in particular, that we realize how urgent is our need to foster love and faith and brotherhood and —at any rate faith, and by that I mean consumer confidence. When Americans, of all people, are afflicted with what the singer-songwriter Roger Miller called “shellout falter”—a reluctance to spend—then the whole world is liable, as Mr. Miller put it so well in his song “Dang Me,” to “lack fourteen dollars having twenty-seven cents.”

Are we going to let it be said that all we had this Christmas to cheer was cheer itself? No! Let’s put the holly back in shopaholic, let’s get jingle-bullish. We owe it to ourselves, to the world, and to future generations. The more presents we spring for now, the lighter the tax burden is going to be down the line.
You notice how much more merrily that last sentence bounced along because I chose spring to express spending, instead of, say, plunge; and lighter instead of, say, less staggering. Words are important. So let’s say “bah, humbug” to b-words like bailout and bankrupt. Let’s digress from anything ending in -ession. Let’s entertain some new, upbeat holiday words.
Why not wake up tomorrow morning feeling consumptious? Rhymes with scrumptious, and approaches sumptuous. When we’re consumptious we’ve got that fire in the belly that’s burning a hole in our pocket. We’re going to be pumping bucks today, we’re going to open our hearts to goods and services, we’re going to take it upon ourselves to help America, and consequently the world, reconomize. In so doing, we can personalize what is just about the only appealing phrase regarding the economy that has emerged this year: each of us can be his or her own stimulus package.
The season of giving is upon us. Need that sound like such a threat? Let’s see if we can spruce up that venerable old word generous, which can be so cringe-inducing when we hear it spoken over the phone by a stranger calling in the interest of a charity. “I hope you will be as generous this year as last” puts us on the spot, so let’s spread generous out.

I don’t think we want to go to heterogenerous, because people might think we’re talking about sex, and there will be plenty of time for that after we get our mercantile heat back on. (For this reason, even businesses whose appeal is essentially spicy should resist, for now, the temptation to send their customers illicitations.) But autogenerous, as in autobiographical, might remind us that giving unto others is also giving unto ourselves, especially if others give back unto us and therefore unto themselves, and we buy our presents at their store and vice-versa. Does auto- strike an ominous note? Let me just say that if each of us becomes a cargiver this Christmas, there will be a lot more shining faces this New Year’s in Detroit. And Japan.
Let us not shrink from taking a look at the word Christmas. It’s a fine old word and I for one would be loath to suggest that it has lost its edge entirely. But it doesn’t exactly sing. The only thing it rhymes with is isthmus, and that but loosely. How do you like the sound of Jingle Day? Says bells and sunshine, says catchy marketing, says plenty of change.

MingletingleKringlePringlesbling’ll,and heysleighpraypayhooray. We might even go a little more on-the-nose: Ka-chingleday.
And incidentally, when you take your tree down and put your ornaments away for next year (yes, of course there will be a next year, don’t even ask such a question), do you know the best way to protect those ornaments? By wrapping them in newspaper. Several sheets per ornament. Maybe a whole newspaper section per ornament. And magazines and books are good to put between wrapped ornaments for further protection. Not to knock the tissue-paper industry, but what has it ever done for, say, people who support themselves and their families (not to mention the Jingle Day puppies their families have been promised) by thinking up words?

From The Dreaded Feast: Writers on Enduring the Holidays by Michele Clark and Taylor Plimpton (Abrams Image, 2009).

"We'll Leave a Light On"

"We'll Leave a Light On" - Tom Clark

Without it, what savage unsocial nights
Our ancestors must have spent! All those deadly
Winter nocturnes in caves and unillumined icy
Fastnesses: they must have laid around and
Grumbled at one another in the dark like the blind,
Fumbling each other's features for the wrinkle of a smile.
What tedious repartee must have passed! Perhaps
This accounts for the dullness of much archaic
Poetry, whose somber cast is notorious and must
Have derived from the traditions of those
Long unlanterned nights. Jokes came in with candles.
How did they see to pick up a pin, if they
Had any? How did they get dinner down? Think of
The mélange of chance carving that must have
Ensanguined dining after dusk! Lights out,
Not even love's what it's cracked up to be.
The senses absolutely give and take
Reciprocally. One wants to know whether that's
An elbow, a knee, or the night table
Before one returns the favor of a friendly nudge.
Wasn't it by the midnight taper all writers once digested
Their meditations? By that same light we ought
To approach them, if we ever expect to catch
The tiger-moth of inspiration that dances
In the word incandescent.

Light is necessary to the human battle against fear and uncertainty. It can supply security and light-hearted relief: "jokes came with candles." At solstice the northern hemisphere begins its slow turn back to the light, at year's end the illumination of fireworks extinguishes all dashed hopes and ignites new ones in their place. New Year's Eve is the most social night of the year to balance the ledger against those dark, "savage unsocial nights / Our ancestors must have spent." Make plans, and on the longest night imagine that all can happen with the right amount of luck, pluck, and light enough to see them through. "We'll Leave a Light On" by Tom Clark appears online at his blog Beyond the Pale.

"Embrace the Gift of Time" - Charley Seagraves

"Embrace the Gift of Time" - Charley Seagraves

Surround yourself with those who love to live,
Good friends who stand with you through thick and thin.
Take chances, make mistakes, and then
Forgive yourself, forget what might have been.
Live in the clouds, but stand upon the ground.
Immerse yourself in all there is to know.
Walk tall with beauty's blessings all around.
Take pride in all you do and you will grow
To stand for what you know is just and right.
Don't hesitate to swim against the stream.
Find someone true with which to share your light.
Dream dreams that you and only you can dream.
   Life's much too short to pout and sulk and whine.
   Live now, live free, embrace the gift of time.

[Photo: "Clock in the Musee D'orsay, Paris" by Andy Herbon.]

"Talisman" - Jeremy Reed


"Talisman" - Jeremy Reed 

Secretly needing our ghosts
of tragedy.

Our defense against a known

The beautiful ruins
we finally have:

Our settling steel,
burying our claw shaped roots deeper

in the taken soil
we will eventually have always owned.

"Veteran’s Day Parade (reprise)" - aralee strange


"Veteran’s Day Parade (reprise)" - aralee strange

Ominous and silent the big military trucks across town
passing people mostly old men mostly white waving
their little flags feebly

One carries a sign

to HELL with Hiroshima
to HELL with Nagasaki

bitch rose from the South Seas
breathed the first whiff of mysterious east into the conflict
and rotting feet
thought we were ready for wet
thought we were ready for ambush and run
we thought wrong but what the fuck

we’re still the greatest goddamned nation on earth
and desert’s dry sun always shining
(but not like California but not like Miami Beach)
but what the fuck

we tap the deepest blackest crude
we drive the biggest mother trucks
we laid the longest thickest pipeline in the universe
we run an equal opportunity military
we put a g.i. jill in every cab
we dig her desert rock & do wop de bopping off to war boots babe
we dig her mirrored shades

it’s the Real Thing america’s made of
sex and war and rock and rich all rolled into one big gun and
rubber be guzzling gasoline until the shifting sands bury the
bones of the boy at the wheel

mama mama
desert is hot
and your child’s a pawn
in an old man’s game

who Remember Why We Fought
for their big american buicks for their endless freeways
all the same mall after mall after mall of American Made

flatten! the curve and roll of the land
build! another road another bridge another dam
sing! omnipotent petroleum daddy
and lay your lead foot down
daddy going drive and sell
daddy going bring home some bacon
daddy going grease america’s wheels rolling on tires
so big they’ll burn spewing black deadly for months
daddy going get tough going save us
if daddy have to kill us

mama mama
hell’s no hotter
how come my blood’s
spilt in the sand

when they rise like the snarling dogs of Saqqara
to cut us down
to bring us down
to call down the Day of Restoration
and no Allah to shield us
no pity in the needle’s eye
no reason good enough

January 1991
“Desert Storm”

"Veteran's Day Parade (reprise)" originally appeared online at Semantikon, October 2003.

"Her Thoughts on Love" - Mark Flanigan

Her Thoughts on Love - Mark Flanigan

it was everything everything-else
should be,
    but rarely is:
    very real.

a love.  founded
on assumption.  once doubted

diseased—now—a corpse on display

the peering in of
little more than memory

the breathing into
impotent to inspire

more than words on paper
awaiting the rebirth of breath

we were body, we were form

the size of which
eclipses me,
    my sight,
and darkens the promise—in the distance—
of anything more perfect.

"muscle memory" - Sharon D. McCoy


"muscle memory" - Sharon D. McCoy

we never realize
how strong we are
until we have to be

and we are stunned, when
having realized it once, we have to
keep on realizing

the hardest part is wanting life
to return to “normal”
forcing ourselves to face

that this has
…………..become normal

especially when people say
“You look great!” or   “I
don’t know how you do that!”

or “I would never
know anything

no matter how
it always hurts:

this stake in a “normal” not theirs
this defensive praise of what they may
have the luxury to choose not to do

somehow, though, the real hardest part
is remembering
all you really want is to breathe


still alive
still together –
remembering –

glad to have
………….another day
………………………another breath

Somehow this gets lost in rough
patches or petty focus – or even worse
when we must realize, dammit, once again

never believing
there’s more where that came from –
…………trusting that

we won’t need it
this intensely

"A Thanksgiving for Strangeness" - Eugene C. Bianchi

"A Thanksgiving for Strangeness" - Eugene C. Bianchi

After a few yoga moves and push-ups,
after a breakfast geared for diabetes,
I walk into yellow leaves and fresh sun 
to do Tai Chi between a BB&T bank
and swift traffic in the real world.
I feel somewhat strange,
but not enough to desist,
recalling with thanks those who
taught me to embrace this weirdness
that makes children point at the funny
old man in the parking lot: look mommy!
What’s he doing? Is he drunk?
Too bad more mystic oddness hasn’t
caught on without drugs of some sort.
Yet there’s a quiet right-now kind
from Ignatius, Buddha, Lao Tzu,
desert mothers, Whitman singing himself
that allows me to blend breath with
the five brown hens and vigilant rooster
out of place here in their designer coop,
and to meld with the splendid double red
weeping maple that shows our Janus-face
reality of things both bright and blood dark,
things ever beautiful yet caught in life’s pain,
all softly rising from a single silent root.
Then I think of my Siamese Max offered to me
from a trailer in the Georgia hinterland
by a bible-school preacher who couldn’t
recognize the feline guru born under his roof.
This master of meditation purrs on my
chest drawing me into an all-encompassing
baritone rumble to make dying a bit easier.
Yes, I lift my cap to them all, these
mentors of weird ways to live and let go.

"Say I love what I've become" - Chicopee Dudley

“Say I love what I've become” – Chicopee Dudley

Sad to say my music collecting days are passed.
I still have the memory of every favorite album
where the drink was spilled, where the vinyl skips.

I still have the albums with the smoky riffs.
Here, urge the backbeat rhythms, fall in love with us again.
The guitar riffs like whiskey … go on, have another.

Books too: say I still love the books, the words
and the silences between them,
the books in boxes waiting again to be read.

Say I love the stars and the black of midnight,
where the books and albums are unheard, unread
and recalled in the darkness: fall in love with us again.

I breathe what’s left back to the world.
Speak the bluesman’s tongue, sweat the writer’s meaning
from my blood, say I love what I’ve become.

"What Kind of Times Are These" - Adrienne Rich


"What Kind of Times Are These" - Adrienne Rich  

There's a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.

I've walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don't be fooled
this isn't a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.

I won't tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.

And I won't tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it's necessary
to talk about trees.

Adrienne Rich, "What Kind of Times are These" from Collected Poems: 1950-2012.

"Keep your head, and spirits, up" - Mark Flanigan

As many of my sensitive comrades wake up today with heavy hearts and hangovers, I would like to remind them that individually we are not defined by any body of government but our own. If the current government body chooses to put a brick in the wall, some other body just as soon can pluck it back out. Maybe at a price, but that is the nature and strange reward of being on the right side of history.
 We are not defined by the inherent flaws of democracy..., but simply challenged by it. I think many of us are better prepared to meet that challenge now that we have experienced something somewhat heartening in the last 8 years, and maybe we will be more vigilant about it now that much of what we not only believe but know (ie. global warming, kindness, civility, etc.) is threatened. Keep your head, and spirits, up. Both are needed now more than they were yesterday.
- Mark Flanigan
 From the SHOOT website:
Kristian Goodard in his essay, The Resilence of the American Flag, blogged this: 
Robert Mapplethorpe's American Flag photograph from 1977 is one of the greatest examples of the resilience of the American Flag. There is something fragile and defeated about the image, and yet it is testimony to the endurance of the flag that, despite its appearance, still flies in the wind.

"Tremble" - Michael Keating


"Tremble" - Michael Keating

If you had a million moments to recount to your friends
I bet your favorite would be the bitter end of us
that slender piece of moonlight paints my sins
projected on the thin frame on the shoulders
of the women i’ve loved
or maybe that time i talked myself into a stagger
I was a stumbling fool
as my intentions slipped through the gaps in my fingers
when you removed your hand from mine
because my shaking made you nervous
I’m sorry honey I am a trembling man
I can’t stop listening to the band playing on in my head,
the off beat drummer is drunk and the lead
is rambling about something that made him anxious one time
it’s a puzzling sound you know,
silence is a testament to a troubled soul

"After The Fall" - Stephen Wack



We remember the caution tape

wrapped around the space you left

like a wavering halo in the early morning

sun, the congealed stain red like a bad mark on

the sidewalk that still wore your hair down

without your head, the silence of lips and chin

to concrete in one precise frozen moment—

harmless as a leaned over whisper to the earth,

“hello” or maybe, “goodbye”—just before

the concrete kissed you back


We remember the low hum

of college campus and Cobb County police

cruisers, news vans, radio talk shows heard

beneath the blasting heat of cars idle in traffic

for hours, the notebooks and study guides

sprawled out open like your body

in the laps of commuter students late

for 8 A.M. mid-terms, motionless,

an unexcused absence


We remember the investigation

the search for identification/motivation/explanation

for any potential culprit outside of academic stress

to push you beyond those guardrail limits

to somewhere/anywhere/but here, the disparate

reports of your gender/age/the time/ and distance

of your sudden plummet down six (or was it nine?)

stories of Central Parking Deck


We remember the possibility

of suicide never mentioned by the college

your fall chalked up only to a vague outline—

to foul play, to accidental slip, to being under

the influence of something other than yourself— 

with still no word from the toxicology reports

no way to catch you in mid-air like a cold


We remember the gossip

spoken over breakfast in-between lectures

echoed throughout the bathroom stalls

carved out dialogues in real-time threads:

     “just failed the fuck outta that test”

     “better go find a parking deck”


We remember the celebrity

of your person, how suddenly everybody knew you

loved you in secret, sat behind you in class

missed the back of your head in the exact

opposite way the sidewalk could not


We remember the denial

of death by your mother, who heard your voice late at night

just before bed, picked up and held you like

a child in the silver fillings of her teeth


We remember the lone photo

of you used over and over again, of how quickly a human body

of art may convert to a still life


We remember everything

except for your



*Miranda L. W., (3/24/1989 – 3/15/2010)

Stephen Wack is tonight's featured reader at Word of Mouth open mic, Wednesday November 2. Sign-up for open mic begins at 7 pm and readings start at 8 pm upstairs at The Globe, corner of Lumpkin and Clayton Streets in downtown Athens.