Gerald Stern
Song of Deborah

When she gathered her people she said “enough of
hills” and “stop climbing,” especially women,
especially if you don’t want muscular calves like
that and block the entrances for I will sing you a
song of lush meadows and show you where to plant
your corn, though your tomatoes nearer the tents,
and peppers too, for there will be soups, but in the
meantime I’ll start my song for that is good for
breathing, especially at these heights and don’t look
back for you could lose your balance—after all,
you don’t have hooves to jump from rock to rock
and, after all, your babies make you heavy, the
poets you carry.


Gerald Stern

One of them poured hot lead
into a bucket of cold water so he could
make determinations from the shapes
of the hardened metal for he was chasing
the odd intrusions in a small girl’s body,-that’s the religious one. He was a rabbi of sorts.-

the other had a small tobacco factory
on the third floor of his house and he engaged
a lehrer for the women there co-determinous
with Tampa and Havana though the language was different

so I was only half crazy at the most,
for there was a little sanity in both of them
though more I believe in him with the three floors
than him with only one workable room,
the kitchen and the bedrooms unthinkable,

and I am loyal to the nth degree
whatever they would have thought of me
and for one of them I would have carried one book,
for another, another.

It’s all written down in the steam of my bathroom mirror—
if you can read it.


Gerald Stern
Blue Jay

At least I am luckier than that blue jay
hopping along the bulwark his rubber leg
falling back under him absolutely
doomed, the way it is out there.

My heart goes out to him
though he’s more a bully than
any other warm creature that came my way.

I never thought I’d plead for a blue jay
I who haven’t pled for seventy years, I who got on my knees
every night to go through the ritual of my own devising.

I who had no grievances then.


Gerald Stern
Ich Bin Jude

Who was it threatened to murder
a streetcar full of fucking Nazis in Wien
when he was in the country only two hours
and watched the car empty
including the festooned conductor and the decorated motorman?

The rain wouldn’t stop.
The cheapest place in Europe—
September, October, November, 1954.
Your darling city.

Jason Schneiderman
Easy To Say


It’s so easy to say, that the bones were broken,
that the body was broken, that the body was on the pile
of bodies, that the body was lifted from the pile
and then the life that had none left did not leave
and then the body returned. It’s a story now, a story
about a body on a pile of bodies, a body that was lifted
from the pile of bodies. It’s a story about a half dug
mass grave, a half dug mass grave that you can close
your eyes and see, that you can close your eyes and
imagine, because you know what a mass grave looks
like, because you watch the television, you saw
the naked bodies as if you were there, you know
everything, you know bodies, you have your own body,
and I wish it well, as I wish my own.


After the attack I couldn’t watch films anymore—I couldn’t watch the people pretending
to be hurt, pretending to hurt. I couldn’t watch the fist as it landed, or the bullet as it
entered. I couldn’t watch because the pretend suffering of the pretend people was too
much, and I only wanted to be safe, to be sure, in every minute, that I was safe. No one
can ever know that. No one can ever be fully safe. Which is not to say that we are all
equally in danger. We are not. We are not in this together. We are in this, and near each
other. We are in this, and we will not leave until we are forced to.


Jason Schneiderman

Your heart doesn’t have to break every day.
It’s OK if sometimes trees are just trees,
and all the leaves on the ground look exactly
like all the other leaves you’ve already seen
in your life-long life. If some days,
you don’t even bother to look closely
at the flowers as you keep on walking toward
wherever you were going, that’s OK too.
Most of life, if you’re lucky, is pretty boring,
filled with unburned houses, uncrashed cars,
unsick friends, unfled countries,
and unshot schools. The parts that hurt—
the parts where you aren’t sure how you’ll live
through them—those only happen to you
in the life you live. In your own life.
I don’t know how to say this,
except that you can only be hurt in the life
you actually live. I’ve spent so much time
in the hypothetical, thinking if I had just left
the house five minutes later, I wouldn’t have been
in that car accident; if I had just worn something
less flamboyant, they wouldn’t have followed
us home; and other things, too, that I’m not ready
to talk about, may never be ready to say out loud.
I once spent three years living a hypothetical life,
living my life like someone who got on the wrong train,
and the right train was on a parallel track, so I could see
the people on the right train but not get to them,
and I lived like someone who had made a mistake
so terrible that I would never be at home in my own
life again. Supposedly, there’s an indigenous tribe
somewhere that measures all other virtues
against fear and caution—that whoever comes up
with the worst case scenario gets to be in charge,
and the children compete over who can express
the most worry and fear, or something like that,
or maybe that was the story they told the anthropologist,
because that was the one she wanted to hear,
or the one she seemed to like best.
When I heard the radio program about them
I thought that I would do quite well among
those people, and I couldn’t quite understand
why the announcer seemed a bit condescending.
I’ve had three catastrophic thoughts today,
and none of them seem likely to come true,
and yet I have been carrying around those fears,
and maybe it would be nice to live among people
who admired me for my fears, instead of wanting to
reassure me of how unlikely they are to come true.
It’s not easy to live just one life, so we tell stories
about time travel and cloning, doppelgangers, and
parallel timelines, but truly, we each live once,
in one direction, with the future unknown
and the past full of whatever it was that happened.
So the more boring each day, the better.
The less fear you can carry, the better, as it has never
actually kept me safe. I hate that essay by
David Foster Wallace about how nothing
in the experience of a chicken would suggest
that it is an animal raised for slaughter,
and that like the chicken, we should mistrust
our quotidian experience. We’re not chickens. The story
I tell myself when I’m afraid of the worst
coming true is that Marie Antoinette was queen
over and over again every single day
for years and years. Her head only came off

Eric Pankey
To Formulate a Definition

How often we are drawn together
By a single act of carelessness
The false positive or double negative

Understood as its opposite
We smear ourselves with ash
To make of the self a void

But instead of disappearing
We leave footprints behind
On the kitchen’s slate floor

The coastline cliffs collapse
Loose threads of rain
Unravel from a cloud sampler

But what is the proximate cause
We learn to discern patterns
And predict the vernal equinox

We hold a curve of willow charcoal
And make a hesitant first mark
Then write a treatise on the nature of things


Allison Joseph
Aunt Jemima’s Revenge

The Chicago-based Quaker Oats Co. has announced a recall of several varieties
of Aunt Jemima’s pancake and waffle mix for possible salmonella contamination.
—United Press Syndicate, March 5, 2008

Finally, she’s got her revenge for decades
of obsequious headscarves and blackface
appropriation, flapjack slavery and erasure

from the history books. She’s no longer
your slave, your anonymous kitchen help
minstrelling through another day with a

happy-face smile, a cakewalk grin. She
has you right where she wants you: feverish
and glassy-eyed, head in the toilet, pleading

for redemption from your own evil.
As a kid, you loved her plump black face
on that bright red box, not knowing she

meant anything other than those fluffy
sugary cakes from your mother’s suburban
skillets, not knowing in vaudeville days,

a white woman with an Italian name
played her sooty-faced in burnt cork.
Later, you learned the first black Aunt

Jemima came straight off a Kentucky
Plantation, hired to bring the World’s Fair
1893’s most startling invention: powdered

hotcakes in a box to a grateful, hungry
nation. But you never thought she’d turn
on you this way—after all, you knew

February was Black History Month, and you
helped your eleven month old scrawl
his “Why Martin Luther King is My Hero”

essay. Why now, you moan, stomach
bucking like a darktown strutter, brain
swimming with unholy visions: Uncle Ben

brandishing Ginsu knives, Charlie Chan
and Betty Crocker swinging nunchucks,
sticks going straight for your head.

Why not now, she replies, never too late
to learn what real food tastes like
coming back up, sardonic grin no longer

the grin of a woman who’s spent
a lifetime making your breakfast
without you ever once offering to make hers.

Dawn Morrow

Black cat sleeps, peaceful, at my feet
as if this is the life she’s always known,
but a torn ear and the scar above her eye
betray her story: she came from the streets.
This warm Chicago afternoon persuades me
to crack the windows open, and she lies,
flat on her belly, body taut, legs stretched out
in her best Superman impression,
her nose picking up a scent.
And, when the man just outside
the gate pulled the trigger seven times
she ran toward the sound, and I hid
in the back of the closet until
I couldn’t hear a man calling for help anymore.

Dawn Morrow

Not long ago I heard the three-tone chord
of a car wreck: screech, crunch, wail.
Now, parked just across the street,
the car, its driver’s side doors,
bent at an awkward angle, like a broken bone;
the empty udder of the airbag covers the window.
On her balcony, above the remains,
my neighbor grills, smoke seeping from the charcoal,
and when she opens the lid, it surges
upward on the breeze, an offering to the gods,
a celebration of life, of survival, of a near miss.

Huang Xiang
Dirge For a Young Country

——A Lament for the Terrorist Attack on New York’s Twin Towers of a car wreck: screech, crunch, wail.

In a dream
New York’s two great pointers are severed
The pain pierces me to the bone
Ships traveling the centuries about to sink
And I seem to face a horrible death by drowning
The twin skyscrapers
Are two masts
Abjectly teetering, hopeless
Are two antennae, newly broken,
That desperately call
To heaven for help
Under the clear sky Upon the Earth
Oh God, Oh God, Why, Why
Are You so completely silent
In the twin towers’ savage destruction
My body within their massive forms
Collapses at the same time
They were “murdered”
And I am strangling
They suffer an attack
And blood flows like water from my gaping wounds
Their bones and sinews of steel bend and break
My whole skeleton.
What the towers have lost of themselves
I am now the less
They are leveled flat
And I am crushed to dust
I tell you loudly
I am the skyscrapers,
Proud pinnacles of earthly construction
New York’s landmark is the same as Beijing’s
Landmark, Tokyo’s, Paris’s, London’s
The symbol of American civilization
Is the symbol of Chinese civilization.
Any American’s misfortune disappearance
Or death
Is the misfortune disappearance and death of
All the people of the world
Everyone’s life is equally precious
Equally precious is everyone’s life
On the Earth Beneath the clear sky
Oh God I find
Posted along New York’s streets pictures of
More than 5,000 missing people
Every one of them is a missing relative I’m searching for
Every picture that stares at me is
Me myself.
I am the father of a child who
Lost a father,
The husband of a wife
Who lost her husband,
A mother who lost the child of a mother
Twin wings of smoke and flame
Envelope me
Incinerate me
It is the smoke of fire burning
Every continent
Every building
Every room
Every person on our planet
The two towering lute strings
That resounded across the skies
Have snapped within my body
And so within the bodies of all of you there is only
A living world has crashed down
Into the stillness of the oozing blood
As though the great King of Terror descended from the sky
The centuries-old prophesy of Nostradamus
Has been fulfilled
Remember this day Remember this day
In a memorandum on the history of mankind
Record this date
Remember this day Remember this day
The darkest moment of cosmic time
——September 11, 2001——
Oh God, Oh God I have faith in you, I call you to appear
Be with me Be with these silent votive candles
All things on Earth that once have died must forge their
back through the bloody muck
Under the clear sky Upon the Earth
To go on living Forever and forever