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Once again, The Nation announces the winners of Discovery/The Nation, the Joan Leiman Jacobson Poetry Prize. Now in its twenty-seventh year, it is an annual contest for poets whose work has not been published previously in book form. The new winners are: Amy Beeder, Bryan Dietrich, Monica Ferrell and Joanna Goodman. This year's judges are Linda Gregerson, Carl Phillips and Marie Ponsot. In the competition, whose manuscripts are judged anonymously, distinguished former winners include Susan Mitchell, Katha Pollitt, Mary Jo Salter, Sherod Santos, Arthur Smith and David St. John. This year's winners will read their poems at Discovery/The Nation '01 at 8:15 pm on Monday, April 23, at The Unterberg Poetry Center, 92nd Street Y, 1395 Lexington Avenue (92nd Street and Lexington Avenue) in New York City.
      --Grace Schulman, poetry editor

Give to Her Your Cloak Also

I understand the necessary lie,

that pasty face he passes off for work,

the interest vested in his paper

tiger. But, frankly, three in a bed

is not what I had planned. Each night

that I slip--calling him, from some stark peak

of passion, Clark--the covers grow more

crowded, the issue, more cumulous.

To which side do I cleave, then? On which

thunderous thigh do these nails leave

no trace? Though there are times I enjoy

such naughtiness (the occasional

quick one in Perry's office, a hot kiss

on the fly), I still find it hard

to divide time between what he is

and what he's had to hide to be just

that. Don't get me wrong, Diary, I love

the both of him, but these days, when I send

him out for squeeze cheese and chips, when

he comes back, Midway Mart sack in one

hand, would-be thug in the other, I can't

help wondering.... Should I prefer this

Superman who saves a world a week,

or he who's learned to live his life

by loaning it his cheek.


'The soul is a number moving by itself'   --Aristotle, De Anima

It is not cold at the top of the stairs.

The years strike like radium drops.

There is a little door, there is a little lock,

There are many good machines whose purposes are lost.

In the plump and tidy cabinets

The red drawers are full of numbers

Irrational and fatly simpering,

While the white drawers have numbers

Imaginary and drifting,

And I am one of those.

Oh, the furnace wheezes, the charwoman sweeps,

The wood sighs and settles and the dormouse sleeps.

Don't try to look at me directly.


Rooster Shadow

It's not by chance that as this house turns to rot,

the outer rooms fill up with feathers: jackdaw

and grackle black, grit-colored slivers of sparrow

or finch that grub for crumbs on every sidewalk.

Don't be fooled by thrash or rapture:

a bird is only vitriol, a lizard's foot,

gristle and a sack of stones, diviner of nothing

but endings. If you doubt it, think of cockfights

or starlings' pulse against the rain-wet glass

each Spring returning to shock you,

a darkness like blood in the yolk. Spurious, plagiarist--

Amid thick leaves I saw the wink of black eyes

waiting in dark pines, the snow-broken greenhouse.

On my stairs is a long rooster's shadow;

nights the rafters host a storm of chatter, the breeze

of a thousand wings; though in the morning

dirty legions can rise silent from one winter's tree.



Ahead, no singular, no grief.

Silicon retina, artificial cochlea, tongue:

we are learning how best to transcribe spirit

by tracking chemical release. To cobble

soul and sense together open here,

the nerve: insert. Localized

interior. My room looks west, and north;

late day's gray veneer aroused by breeze.

Months pass, moth-filled and uncontained,

since we slipped through ovals in San Marco's

dormer cells, looking down through glass to see

back towards black mountains' robed retreat,

blue fields, hands floating out of time.

It was neither mystical nor real, but it was both.

A thin lather of rain fell last night.

I woke at four again and listened to first birdcalls swerve

along the eaves. Voices scored for feeling

and depth: tassled, metallic rows of rants

unravel meridians. Immediate, unmediated world.

The talk here's about sacrifice--

Who would give up body first, who mind.

I try not to be seen or heard, though apparently

all we want is to be found.


Risen chambers along twigs of black gum,

butternut: buttercup playing Camaldoli's

forest floor. I held one to your chin, silence

stretching light's expanse between us. Measured

rhythms, equilibriums: that the shapes might

fit; mass to rhapsodic mass, vein to leaf, leaf

to branch; error to its thought; that in the symmetry

between hand and touch we might find not just relief.

I've lost track of how I've hurt you.

Out of stone huts hermits emerge

like mist's cargo, dissolve without blundering

into air. They'll come down the mountain

in old age. We watch from outside the gate--

Smoke curls skyward--


And darkness corked by light.

In this night scene the first bridge, built

out of the first man's mouth, makes the world make

sense. One theory says God fell in love and in letting go: matter. Between death and dream breath's vanishing,

the broken parts, bring us back to each other--

erasures, secco-frescoed molecules--

malachite, ultramarine, lead tin yellow,

flaking with time, vine black triangles

where a branch once held the tree trembling in place.


Sounds that twisted
around the room like smoke,
bludgeoning, blossoming,
where I did not want
to find them, but I find them
over and over. Father,
bless your hair.
Bless your hammer
and your no-song whistle,
your voice, your strange
language--embarrassing to me
once. Too lyrical, too vulgar.
But father, bless your hair:
sculptural, short, black
lamb's wool, steel wool
like your voice--gravel
underfoot when I'd walk
home from school. Bless
your voice, the gravel
underfoot, your hammer,
your strange language twisting
like smoke, biting like a snake
the head of which I wanted
to stroke or crush with my heel.
And your whistle father,
and when you'd stop
whistling, suddenly,
in the middle of your work,
as if something had cut
away the part of you
that wanted to sing.

A box of Chopin nocturnes handed down
from the other side of my mother's death--
evening gowns in trash bags making a little
Golgotha of their own right in the corner
of that studio we had spent all morning
emptying out--uncandled cold chaperoned
through the sill. Lullabies all of us had
already heard while drinks kept going round
the parlor after her wake assembled now
into makeshift history--bits of tenderness
discarded down the cosmos slide, each night
a phantom limb, the hours trapezing over
that sea of anonymous faces where sidereal
glances scale up the piano's mirrored lid.

In later paintings--

a Brueghel, a Dali--

a hill could also be a breast

grazed by clouds, the breast

of a woman lying on her back

facing heaven. But in this painting

by the Osservanza Master

(about whom nothing is known,

not even his real name)

the hill is just a hill

beneath an arch of cirrus,

although it swirls like cream

to a soft peak, although it hides

a distant church blushing in the dusk.

I love this painting,

no larger than a leaf

of notebook paper.

Its sharp thin brushstrokes

shiny as currycombed hair

drinking track-light.

And I love the story it tells:

Saint Anthony Abbot tempted

by a heap of gold. Stranger than any

hill transformed into a breast

is that the pile of gold has vanished!

Yet the Saint is still

so distinct you could lift him

off the panel. His hands cupped

like a calyx holding its flower

he gazes downward

at the damaged place

where the gold has been,

where now a small pink ghost lingers

like a kiss on the hillside.

But it's hard to know if he's still

surprised by the temptation

he'd once found at his feet,

or by the rabbit crouching there, forever

bearing a tree rooted in air.

Or is he simply amazed

that what he never had was taken away

What will become of these

my many lives,

abandoned each morning abruptly to their own fates?

Of the fox who stopped to look up at me,

bright death stippling her muzzle,

and announced--clearly, simply--"I was hungry"?

Of the engine left half-disassembled,

the unmendable roofleaks, the waiting packed bags?

Cloudbellies of horses drinking at sunset.

Fierce embraces remembered half a day if at all.

Even the bedside jar of minute and actual seashells

wavers and thins--

though each was lifted, chosen,

I no longer recall if it was in joy or distraction,

in foreknowledge or false belief.

How much more elusive, these half-legible scribblings.

If souvenirs at all, they are someone else's.

As each of my memories,

it seems, is destined to be someone else's,

to belong to a woman who

looks faintly like me and whom I wish well,

as one would any stranger passed in a shop, on the street.

Why must the noble rose
bristle before it blooms, and why

must the frost declare

allegiance to the dew?

Don't tell me the robin's

forlorn invitation

could not be denied.

I've heard the magpie's lies.

Outside my window,

twenty-seven juncos

consort in a cedar tree,

fat and happy to be free

of all desire--ah, but

that's not true! See

how they dance and turn

when I throw out the seed.

It was curled on the pavement, forehead to knees,

as if it had died while bowing. Its stripes

were citrine-yellow, and the black of a moonless

starless, clear night. It did not

belong on a street, to be stepped on, I picked it

up in a fold of glove, and in the taxi

canted it onto a floral hankie,

a small, thin, cotton death-glade--

and the bee moved, one foreleg,

like an arm, feebly, as if old. It seemed

not long for this world, and it seemed I could not

save it, and had been saved, by its gesture,

from smothering it all day in my bag. I would have

liked to set it in a real glade,

but I thought that it might still, right now,

be suffering, yet I could not kill it

directly--I shook it, from the hankie, out the window,

onto West End Avenue,

hoping that, before a tire

killed it, instantly, it would hear

and feel huge rushes of tread and wind,

like flight, like the bee-god's escape.


Meditations on writers’ conferences, Schlesinger Jr. on America, an Auden poem.

May 15, 2014

We published some of his earliest poems as well as his great 1964 essay on Sonny Liston vs. Cassius Clay.

January 11, 2014

How do you rhyme “Obama” with “Yokahama”?

December 16, 2012

Todd Akin, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan all have me thinking of June Jordan’s great “Poem about My Rights.”

August 22, 2012

A poet passionately engaged with writing and politics, she said "art means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of the power which holds it hostage."

March 28, 2012

If the great Hiroshima novel remains unwritten, a number of major poets have written brilliantly on nuclear concerns.

August 16, 2011