Last year we put together the Poetry International sampler, a selection of poems celebrating our first ten ten years of publishing poetry. Now we’re happy to publish those poems for you here. Here’s the first installment: “Prison Guards Silhouetted Against the Night Sky,” by Charles Simic which originally appeared in Poetry International One; “Walking in Los Angeles,” by Stephen Dunn, which originally appeared in Poetry International Two; “Fine,” by Kim Addonizio, which originally appeared in Poetry International Three; and “Written for Others,” by Hsia Yü which originally appeared in Poetry International Four. To get your hands on these issues, and more, visit us at Poetry International.
Prison Guards Silhouetted Against the Night Sky
I never gave them a thought. Years had gone by,
Many years. I had plenty of other things
To mull over. This morning I was in the dentist’s chair
When his new assistant walked in
Pretending not to recognize me in the slightest
As I opened my mouth obediently.
We were smooching in the grass by the river bank,
And I wanted her to peel off her bra.
The sky was darkening, there was even thunder
When she finally did, so that the first large
Rain drop fell and wet one of her nipples.
That was nicer than what she did to my mouth now,
While I peeked, while I waited for a sign,
Perhaps a sudden dreamy look coming over her
At the memory of the two of us running soaked wet
Past the prison with its towers and armed guards
Silhouetted against the stormy sea.
Walking in Los Angeles
The paramedics spoke as if from afar
and I, who didn’t know where I was or why,
answered from the restaurant floor.
“I’m fine,” I said, our most familiar lie.
My dinner companions explained I’d gone
ashen, and then died (one of them thought),
but I had merely mixed some medication
with some wine, not knowing my cough
was pneumonia’s broadcast from below.
Women faint. Men pass out.
I passed out (collapsed?) and now
I was going for a sirened ride through a state
not mine, on my back, oxygen up my nose.
The other diners returned to their food.
I think I heard that brief, polite applause
reserved for an opponent carried off a field.
I was their story now, their dessert.
Even I was thinking how I might be told.
There was this man, a stranger, lying there inert.
He was more interesting before he stirred and spoke.
You’re lucky. It’s always them and not you. The family trapped in the fire, the secretary slain in the parking lot holding her coffee and Egg McMuffin, the ones rushed to Emergency after the potluck. You’re lucky you didn’t touch the tuna casserole, and went for the baked chicken instead. Your friend with breast cancer that was detected too late – mestasasized to the lymph nodes, the lungs, a few months to live – lucky there’s no history in your family. Another friend’s fiancé, heart attack at forty-seven. You lie in bed at night, your head on your lover’s chest, and you’re grateful. Your teenaged daughter, unlike all her friends, hasn’t become sullen or combative, addicted to cigarettes and booze. She’s not in the bathroom with her finger down her throat to throw up dinner. You and your family are fine. You’re happy. It’s like you’re in your own little boat, just you, sailing along, and the wind is up and nothing’s leaking. All around you you can see other boats filling up, flipping over, sliding under. If you look into the water you can watch them for a while, going down slowly, getting colder and
farther away. Soon, if nothing happens to you, if your luck holds,
really holds, you’ll end up completely alone.
Written For Others
I write a Chinese character in the palm of his hand
Making it as intricate as I can in the interest of
Arousing his interest write it wrong so I can rub
It out and write it right from scratch stroke by stroke
Drawing him into one pictographic raft after another
Until I let the air out of the raft and we sink
Into the lake until I say I love you
With neither root nor branch nor a nest to rest
I love you I love you and I slow us down
Until we barely move at all until we hear
The very mesh of the gears upon our flesh
There is a cone of light that bares the fact that whoever
Invented the motion picture did so just so we would turn
Down the lights and learn to make love like this
In slow motion and in the slowest possible motion
I love you as we slowly
Dissolve into grains of light I love you
Until we then turn wafer thin
O I love you
I love you
Until we come to be strangers to ourselves
So that others will come to imagine
They have seen through us