"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