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Selected Poetry from Issue #46

WE BROKE UP OVER DRUGS (1983)

--- for Gregory Corso

We broke up over drugs
your decades old heroin addiction--
my puritanical response to your shooting up

We broke up over drugs
Driving through the Lincoln Tunnel
each morning so you could buy heroin
labeled "poison" in glassine envelopes
near Chrystie Street and not being able
to wait until we got home to shoot up immediately
My worrying the police would stop you
and arrest you at the small park
or arrest me on the way back
to my apartment and find the heroin
and "the works"--the clean needles
you also bought that day 

We broke up over drugs
You selling a page from your notebook
or a sketch with a new poem
to Andreas Brown at Gotham Book Mart
on West 47th Street so you'd have money
for tomorrow's drugs

We broke up over drugs
My worrying I'd get AIDS from you
though you said you only used
clean needles and mostly you slept
on my brown velvet sofa
watching a baseball game
if you weren't nodding off
though sometimes you wrote
in your Chinese red silk notebook
with your Mont Blanc pen
you asked me to buy for you
and to buy one for myself
though I never did

We broke up over drugs
You promising to get clean
and go to the methadone clinic
and my finding out you had
gone only once 

We broke up over drugs
Your loving your drugs more than me
Your abandonment of your kids--
each one with a different mother
My trying to keep your 8 year old son Max
from San Francisco who was spending
a week with us supplied with toys,
Radio Shack stuff while you
dozed on the sofa

I remember your saying
" If Max ever does drugs, 
I'll kill myself"
Not realizing ( or maybe you did)
you were killing yourself every day

Laura Boss is a first prize winner of PSA's Gordon Barber Poetry Contest. She is a recipient of three NJSCA Fellowships. Founder and editor of Lips, her own most recent book is The Best Lover (NY Quarterly, 2017).  Her poems have appeared in The New York Times.


A Poet Dreams of a Poetry Retreat

The weary poet enters a convent at night.  People move back and forth in the long the dark hallway, their heads bent, mumbling and scribbling in black bound journals. One by one they disappear into dark rooms, shutting the doors quietly behind them.  A tall cloaked man emerges from the shadows. “Who goes there?” he asks. “A poet,” the poet answers. “I’m hungry for prompts.” “Of course you are,” the tall man says, “but there’s also dinner and snacks.” “What’s the catch?” the poets asks. “It could be cod,” the man says, “but first you have to write a poem about a person you can’t stand, or a family member, or a horse with no name…” “Wait a minute. That’s a song,” the poet says. “Is this thing for real?” “If I tell you that then I have to kill you,” the man says and thinks. “How about you just write a villanelle.” “I’d rather have you kill me,” the poet says. “Very well,” the man agrees, “how shall I do it?” Now it’s the poet’s turn to think. “A long slow death. Make me suffer. I’m used to that.” “As you wish, begin by writing a poem about your old neighborhood, your childhood cat, shopping on Black Friday, a game you used to play, that thing that didn’t happen, that thing you need.”  The poet cries, “Stop, these prompts, I can’t write them fast enough. My fingers are cramping. There must be another way.” “There is only one,” the man says. The poet begs, “Anything please, I’m tormented, I’m happy, I’m sad, I’m looking for something I’ve lost.” The cloaked man whispers as he recedes back into the shadows,”You must listen to poets who write three poems for every prompt.” “I can’t do that,” the poet says, “I just can’t.” “Then wait for the dinner bell,” the voice says from beyond the shadows, “and grab the chocolate donuts and run.” 

Kevin Carey is an Assistant Professor in the English Department at Salem State University. He has published three books – The Beach People from Red Bird Chapbooks (2014) and two books of poetry from Cavankerry Press, The One Fifteen to Penn Station (2012) and Jesus Was a Homeboy (2016).


My Mother’s Stories

As far back as I can remember
my mother disappeared each day
into one soap opera after another––

her stories, she called them––
lying for hours on the flattened couch,
water glass sweating on the end table, 

dogs snoring at her feet through
Search for Tomorrow and As The World Turns, 
the risen-from-the dead or woken-

from-a-five-year-coma characters
in my mother’s stories the friends
she laughed and cried with

the days after my father hit her
and threatened to leave us again,
and after he did leave with his Pall Malls

and green trash bags of clothes,
sweeping her into worlds where loss
and regret touched everyone but her.

I came home from school
at 3 o’clock to The Guiding Light,
after which she’d make me a snack

and slip out onto the front stoop
to smoke and watch traffic or gossip
with our block’s other mothers,

twice stepping out there when someone
from the electric, then the gas company
came to shut off our power and our heat,

my mother pulling the door shut behind her,
my mother, who said all the time
she wasn’t smart, who bowed her head 

before authority figures––
cops, priests, nuns––said something
convincing each time to a worker


who left us with our heat and our lights,
my mother never sharing those stories,
or her stories of why her family

cut her off after she married my father,
or why, since I never saw them happy,
she married him in the first place,

the only stories I ever really knew
of my mother those exaggerated ones
on the screen, in front of which

she lay blank-faced in her pink curlers,
falling asleep sometimes, making small
popping sounds when she exhaled,

which I still hear, fifteen years after her death,
when I stretch a blanket across her
and bend down to kiss her cheek.

Daniel Donaghy is the author of five poetry collections, most recently Somerset (NYQ Books, 2018), Start with the Trouble (U of Arkansas Press, 2009), which won the Paterson Prize for Literary Excellence, and Streetfighting (BkMk Press, 2005). He is a Professor of English at Eastern Connecticut State University.


Reading Melville at Sixteen

Under the slanted ceiling of my bedroom
in the house my parents rented, I’d lie
awake, translating myself into wave,
oar, hook, harpoon, mast, the vicissitude
in me rocking me forward through the night,
my teenage body a perfect sermon
for sharks, my mind a hive of subtlety,
my heart a mutineer, a castaway.
In those days, I read without grasping
after greatness and depth; what I knew of life
took place within a four block radius,
but on the page I was purely at sea, 
sailing toward the endless pink skyline,
a lyric-thrashed leviathan’s ribcage. 
 

Dante Di Stefano is the author of Love Is a Stone Endlessly in Flight (Brighthorse Books, 2016). Along with María Isabel Alvarez, he co-edited the anthology Misrepresented People: Poetic Responses to Trump’s America (NYQ Books, 2018). He lives in Endwell, New York.


Impossibly

The way, the mystics say, 
the higher parts of the soul
transcend the body,
hover above,
you sit at the dinner table
in turquoise skirt and dark blouse
surrounded by five children.
Potato flakes on the floor, fish sticks
and ketchup smears on the tablecloth,
you read a book about sharing. 
Your voice--calm, measured--floats above
the disorder after a morning three daughters
hollered in the upstairs hallway,
an afternoon two sons pierced
a park’s peace
until a Chinese stranger slid
the younger one’s bike chain
back on its track.  Your voice
rises above the dining room, 
flows from your dark body
into the air
for five young faces
rapt, impossibly, in attention
and wonderment.  
 

Yehoshua November is the author of two poetry collections, God’s Optimism (a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize) and Two Worlds Exist (a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award and the Paterson Poetry Prize). November teaches writing at Rutgers University and Touro College.

As Old as I get, I am still sixteen  

As Old as I get, I am still sixteen. There still seems to be
A pimple exactly in the middle of my forehead,
Flaming red, an angry looking thing
I was too pale for the 70’s
Where everyone beautiful was feather haired
And tanned and looked “natural” – whatever that is.
My natural look is pasty- one shade removed from dead.
I have a huge head, and a barrel chest
and, being sloe footed, I wobble when I walk
belly first – just like a toddler.

As old as I am, I can still hear the students
Singing the scurvy joe song, can see the
Girl whose grandmother lives next door
Eyeing my older and good lucking brother
I know what alone is. I know what being left out
Means. Not even the doofs, the forerunners of nerds
Let me play chess, or join in their conversations
Concerning Kafka and Apollinaire.

They are all going
To Harvard. I am going to my parents’ funerals
And then to a factory for 23 years. At 16,
I am permanently angry, sad at least
Half of the day. Later I will meet a bunch
of Cuban exiles who will let me
Join their band – learn Caesar Vallejo, listen
To Ruben Blades. Until then it’s just me
And my anger, 24/7 and like the corner store
Opened even on Christmas. I am always sixteen,
In a denim jacket too slight for winter
Watching the grass yellow, my head buried
In a book or staring out a window –
My mind making graceful arcs around
Poems and songs no one else wants to know.
 

Joe Weil is an assistant professor in the creative writing department at Binghamton University. His poetry has appeared in many literary magazines and he has performed on NPR and on PBS. His latest book, A Night in Duluth, is published by New York Quarterly Press.