Why this?

The occasional poem of my own and a generous helping of work by others that I find inspiring. Site is named for a beloved book by one of my favorite writers, Italo Calvino, whose fanciful work lights--and delights--my soul.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


I imagine our last happy days: a field
brimming with sunset-grass
the colour of whiskey
you and I are sipping.
And the children--whose
names are the tips of our tongues--
twirl about them the melting
ice of imaginations in that hot field
where we are sitting in some shady place
near sunset's charred oesophagus
looking on, sipping our whiskey 
washing ourselves away so shiningly.

--Vladimir Lucien


When dinners' wick has gone black
but the sky and river still see the blue 
drop in the other's grey eyes,

the stacked lanterns of windows
light here then again, a festival 
to the most ordinary of days.

These moments I want nothing
but to sit under the sound of the laundry 
beating warm and steady

as the night flows between buildings,
to let myself darken with the night sky
as it fills with these paper domes,

all the light let go
by a million homes alighting for sleep--
to live outside this body.

--Alison Angell 


The problem here is that
This isn’t pretty, the
Sort of thing which

Can be easily dealt with
With words. After
All it’s

A horror story to sit,
A black man with
A white wife in

The middle of a hot
Sunday afternoon at
The Jefferson Hotel in

Richmond, VA, and wait
Like a criminal for service
From a young white waitress

Who has decided that
This looks like something
She doesn’t want

To be a part of. What poetry
Could describe the
Perfect angle of

This woman’s back as
She walks, just so,
Mapping the room off

Like the end of a
Border dispute, which
Metaphor could turn

The room more perfectly
Into a group of
Islands? And when

The manager finally
Arrives, what language
Do I use

To translate the nervous
Eye motions, the yawning
Afternoon silence, the

Prayer beneath
His simple inquiries,
The sherbet which

He then brings to the table personally,
Just to be certain
The doubt

Stays on our side
Of the fence? What do
We call the rich,

Sweet taste of
frozen oranges in
This context? What do

We call a weight that
Doesn’t fingerprint,
Won’t shift

And can’t explode?

--Cornelius Eady

Why Do So Few Blacks Study Creative Writing?

Always the same, sweet hurt,
The understanding that settles in the eyes
Sooner or later, at the end of class,
In the silence cooling in the room.
Sooner or later it comes to this,

You stand face to face with your
Younger face and you have to answer
A student, a young woman this time,

And you’re alone in the classroom
Or in your office, a day or so later,
And she has to know, if all music
Begins equal, why this poem of hers
Needed a passport, a glossary,

A disclaimer. It was if I were…
What? Talking for the first time?
Giving yourself up? Away?
There are worlds, and there are worlds
She reminds you. She needs to know
What’s wrong with me? and you want

To crowbar or spade her hurt
To the air. You want photosynthesis
To break it down to an organic language,
You want to shake I hear you
Into her ear, armor her life

With permission. Really, what
Can I say? That if she chooses
To remain here the term
Neighborhood will always have
A foreign stress, that there
Will always be the moment

The small, hard details
Of your life will be made
To circle their wagons?

--Cornelius Eady


Today I’m thinking about this child’s life —
the rags of it, the ragged waves of it, the vaporous
fumes of it, the split tree, stomped out spark,
the one-eyed, peg-legged pirate of it, the over-ripened
kissed to bruises fruit, the exposed
negative, the burned out bulb marquee. And then
I start thinking maybe there’s hope.
Maybe her life could be like jazz
that starts out with a simple melody,
nothing complicated, nothing jittery or twisted,
and then breaks off, kisses it, waves goodbye,
ripens the notes, tears the tune to rags,
strips it, pokes out an eye, burns it,
sends it up in smoky wreaths,
reaches inside and steals the honey,
bees streaming in black ribbons from the hive,
and when it seems as though it’s long gone, ashes and bone,
when it’s strung out, wrung out, blasted
with a wrecking ball, bombed out, concrete dust,
it slides over and spirals up in one high thin note
stretched so far you can’t tell if the ache
is bitter or sweet, it returns
to the melody, rinsed pure and clean of the past,
you almost can’t bear it, the deliverance,
the song come home.

--Ellen Bass

Pleasantville, New Jersey, 1955

I’d never seen a rainbow or picked
a tomato off the vine. Never walked in an orchard
or a forest. The only tree I knew
grew in the square of dirt hacked
out of the asphalt, the mulberry
my father was killing slowly, pounding
copper nails into its trunk.
But one hot summer afternoon
my mother let me drag the cot onto the roof.
Bed sheets drying on the lines,
the cat’s cardboard box of dirt in the corner,
I lay in an expanse of blueness. Sun rippled
over my skin like a breeze over water.
My eyelids closed. I could hear the ripe berries
splatting onto the alley, the footsteps
of customers tracking in the sticky, purple mash.
I heard the winos on the wooden crates,
brown bags rustling at the throats of Thunderbird.
Car engines stuttered, came to life and died
in the A&P parking lot and I smelled grease and coffee
from the diner where Stella, the dyke, washed dishes
with a pack of Camel’s tucked
in the rolled-up sleeve of her t-shirt.
Next door, Helen Schmerling leaned on the glass case
slipping her fist into seamed and seamless stockings,
nails tucked in, to display the shade, while Sol
sucked the marrow from his stubby cigar,
smoke settling into the tweed skirts and mohair sweaters.
And under me something muscular swarmed
in the liquor store, something alive
in the stained wooden counter and the pungent dregs
of beer in the empties, my mother
greeting everyone, her frequent laughter,
the shorn pale necks of the delivery men,
their hairy forearms. The cash register ringing
as my parents pushed their way, crumpled dollar
by dollar, into the middle class.
The sun was delicious, lapping my skin.
I felt that newly arrived in a body.
The city wheeled around me—
the Rialto movie, Allen’s shoe store, Stecher’s Jewelry,
the whole downtown three blocks long.
And I was at the center of our tiny
solar system flung out on the edge
of a minor arm, a spur of one spiraling galaxy,
drenched in the light.

--Ellen Bass

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Disaster Work

Someone is on the plane
that noses 2,000 feet into the air, stops,
then drops. Someone is in
the tornado-flattened Texaco station.
Someone is on the bus the suicidal
or stroke-struck driver launches
through the guardrail and off the mountain.

It isn’t you. You’re watching
a ticker scroll placidly across
the bottom of the screen, thinking
awful, awful, and below those words,
deeper than articulation can go,
hums your golden gratitude
that once again this is a tragedy

you can witness but not touch.
You can continue the work
of chewing your waffle. You can
approach the smoothed edges
of disaster, and you can,
when you light on a rough spot—
the image of the little boy’s

brown shoe in the rubble, the woman
who looks like your mother
howling in a blue hat—pull back.
Some will say this is cowardice,
your unwillingness to hold
these horrors in your hands. But
if you considered, truly, the dead child,

the husband that the woman
who looks like your mother
will never see again; if you considered,
truly, what it means that a plane
could drop without warning
with its full load of daughters
and coaches and magazine-readers,

that the sky might unfold a beast
that will hunt you without reason,
that the white-mustached man
behind the wheel of your bus
is not programmed but is a human
stranger you have chosen to trust
with your absurdly flimsy life—

how in the world could you do
the work of chewing your waffle?
How could you do the impossible work
of putting your child to bed,
saying goodnight, closing the door
on the darkness?

--Catherine Pierce