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Fall 2023   |   Vol. 11, No. 2

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3 / Poems

Red bench in fall, leaves surrounding it. After a rainfall.
About Propel

Nine Mile Magazine both solicits work and accepts submissions. The poems here were accepted by the editors before Bob Herz passed away. The next reading period will commence in the new year. Submissions should be sent to Nine Mile through Submittable.

— Steve Kuusisto and Andrea Scarpino 

Susan Aizenberg

Susan Aizenberg

Ode    

                      He-who-came-forth was

                      it turned out

                      a man —

                                           — Denise Levertov

In those days we hardly saw you.

Pressed to talk you frowned, suffered

our need in silence; but left alone,

you’d share sometimes a new taste

for Beowulf or quote Einstein’s views

on war. Everything about you

seemed newly born: your widening

shoulders, muscles sculpting your

once round arms, the deepening voice

I sometimes mistook for your father’s,

all traces of childhood hardening

into those unmistakably male angles

and planes I have loved all my life.

We watched as you drove down 

a basketball court, leather ball sure 

as gravity beneath one hand,

the tall opposing guards gone 

heavy-footed, you a jerseyed flash 

between them, threading the key 

for a sly reverse lay-up. We watched

as you lifted your first shovel 

of earth into a new grave, your aunt 

gone too young. I don’t want ever to die, 

you said, and we had no answer. 

At seventeen you filled the house 

with the echoes of your moving 

on: slammed doors and long absences, 

the insistent thrum of heavy metal

pulsing from the basement.

This Morning My Friend Writes 

 

to say the birds love her. And why not, 

she says, I keep the feeders full.

 

The world is ugly. And the people are sad, I reply. 

 

We know Stevens means to be ironic,

but I’m listening to the radio,

 

a BBC reporter recalling how, as the Taliban

rolled into Kabul, he’d watched as hundreds 

 

clung to and fell from the enormous wheels

and nose of a US transport, as it inched

 

across the tarmac. And because she keeps 

no chickens, my friend continues, 

 

she can welcome the fox, a vixen, she thinks, 

who comes to her daily, a ruddy shadow,

 

white brushstroke of belly, darting in and out

of the tall maples bordering her wildflower-

 

strewn meadow —

      (the fox, I think, is not a metaphor, the plane

               is not a symbol)

 

She says the birds love her, and why not?

I keep the feeders full — Tiny bright aerialists,

 

the hummingbirds tread the air beside her deck,

songbirds chorus at her windows. She leaves,

 

she tells me, oranges each day for the orioles — no

sooner do I put one out than they begin to work it.

 

You’re Snow White, I say, trying to be funny —

      (the birds are not a metaphor) —

 

But the bear, she says, is another story

lately, she writes, he appears as the upended lid

 

of the barrel where she stores her birdseed

in the garage. As a five-fingered paw print

 

ashy on the backdoor screen. On the radio,

an Afghan writer’s voice like a cracked recording 

 

as he reports on town square hangings, on hands 

sliced off, girls sent home from school,

 

their mothers from work. In the photo my friend’s

attached, the bear’s head, a grainy shadow —

      (immense behind the screen door,

              a child’s night terror) —

Susan Aizenberg's newest collection, A Walk with Frank O'Hara and Other Poems, is forthcoming in University of New Mexico Press’s Mary Burritt Christiansen Poetry Series (fall 2024). She’s also the author of Quiet City (BkMk 2015) and Muse (SIUP 2002) and co-editor, with Erin Belieu, of The Extraordinary Tide: New Poetry by American Women (Columbia UP 2001). Recent poems appear or are forthcoming in Plume, SWWIM, On the Seawall, and elsewhere.

About the Poems: “Ode” and “This Morning My Friend Writes” are both from my forthcoming collection, A Walk with Frank O’Hara and Other Poems (UNMP/Mary Burritt Christiansen Poetry Series, Fall 2024) and like most of my work, combine memory and imagination in much the same way I imagine most fiction does. I confess to a kind of amnesia when it comes to the actual writing, but my focus when composing is always on language, rather than contentat least consciously—my allegiance to the poem as a made thing, rather than to whatever may have sparked it. 

Michael Waters

Michael Waters

Table on the Edge of the World 

 

Those days I would catch the ferry to Santorini

Just to sit at the table at Franco’s, the table

Closest to the edge of the cliff. Barely

Big enough to hold an ashtray & glass, 

Tiled & tilted & square, 

It perched above the sea like a prow.

If I looked straight ahead, not at the caldera 

Biding time below, I’d see

Nothing but air merging with the Aegean,

The horizon invisible, water & sky

Swirled into a primal blue boutique cocktail. 

Behind me the world unfurled its cloak 

As I leaned forward, unzipping the ether, 

The velocity of vision speeding me

Away from the languor of my body.

Soon enough I lowered my gaze.

Donkeys hauled luggage up from the harbor,

Flies befouling their rheumy eyes.

That afternoon I read again the tattered volume

Of Cavafy, then slid it onto the shelf 

Chalked Take One Leave One 

And thumbed a book with a shattered spine,

The Confessions of Zeno by Italo Svevo, which

I rucksacked back by evening ferry 

To the stone cottage & my wife’s company.

Kerosene lamp. Well water.

I wondered how long we might live so simply.

I loved the novel for its quirky humor,

For its narrator’s conflicted conscience

Which in its vanity mirrored my own. 

Those days of the 80s have receded 

Like wheel ruts below the silted seabed, 

Stone roads leading nowhere

Once the volcano blackened pagan skies.

Wherever we live, some part of us dies.

Not long ago I returned to Franco’s,

The bar familiar yet not the same,

As I was not the same though once again

Reading Svevo, whose book I’d tossed

Into my backpack before leaving home. 

At the whim of gods 

Untroubled by conscience, I finished the novel

There at that table on the edge of the world

Before returning it, damaged but intact, 

To its exact spot on the shelf, itself  

Imperishable down the decades,

Like the sky, the sea, the intoxicant air.

Author Photo 

 

I notice first the hands: the elegant watch,

Its buttery band caressing a wrist,

The rings a glitz of fireworks—

Turquoise oval, opal circle, 

Crescent of onyx.

I squint to read the titles of books

Buckling background shelves:

The fat horizontal biographies,

The slender vertical poetries.

Then the hair, upswept, brushed back, 

Aura’d with sunlight 

Flooding the unseen window

Where oaks must confer above eaves, 

Their red leaves alive in wind.

I can almost see eggs in nests, 

Webs of bagworms,

The ghostly gestures of the branches:

Forebears funneling down 

The cellular debris of centuries,

Bearing histories of couplings

Until the flesh of ten thousand families

Assumes singular shape in the face.

I stare at the fixed lips, unapologetic

Nose, square chin & askew 

Cheekbones, at amber eyes

Lanterned by the mind 

Which composed lines

Only this poet could have written,

Then turn the book to flip it open, 

Hungry for cadence, already smitten.

Countdown 

 

It’s not the tunes, though as I grow older

Oldies are what I growl & yammer, 

Now to myself, though years ago 

I crooned those relics to my daughter

In our woozy, casual

Bedtime ritual. In the Still of the Night.

Earth Angel.

                      It’s not the stories, 

Though several seem original, 

Perfectly formed fictions 

In three-minute articulations.

It’s not their endless repetitions, 

Or nonsense syllables sung

With the thrill of giving over

To Pentecostal tongues or

The fervor of sexual rapture,

Nor their poor grammar,

Lopped-off gs & unsaintly ain’ts,

Not even their wildly 

Misbegotten similes:

You keep my heart jumpin’ like a kangaroo

Floatin’ like an onion in a bowl of stew. 

It’s their unselfconsciousness:

Isn’t this how we’ve longed to speak

Our affections — in artless couplets

Flung from lips, with ardor 

Spun from top forty hits

Whose rimshot beats still pulse our hearts?

Twilight Time. There’s a Moon Out Tonight.

I wail oldies as the countdown starts.

Michael Waters’ recent books of poetry include Sinnerman (Etruscan Press, 2023), Caw (BOA Editions, 2020), and The Dean of Discipline (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018). Darling Vulgarity (BOA Editions, 2006) was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and Parthenopi: New & Selected Poems (BOA Editions, 2001) was a finalist for the Paterson Poetry Prize. His coedited anthologies include Border Lines: Poems of Migration (Knopf, 2020), Reel Verse: Poems About the Movies (Knopf, 2019), Contemporary American Poetry (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), and Perfect in Their Art: Poems on Boxing from Homer to Ali (Southern Illinois University Press, 2003). His poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Poetry, American Poetry Review, Paris Review, Yale Review, Kenyon Review, Georgia Review, and Gettysburg Review. A 2017 Guggenheim Fellow, recipient of five Pushcart Prizes & fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Fulbright Foundation, Maryland State Arts Council, & NJ State Council on the Arts, Michael Waters lives without a cell phone in Ocean, NJ.
 

About the Poems: My poems are always "hungry for cadence," written line by line, searching for sensual, musical phrasings to convey our helpless affections. Their influences include not only poems by John Logan, Isabella Gardner, and Gwendolyn Brooks, for example, poets who wrote by ear, as I like to think, but the hit records heard on transistor radios in the early '60s, with their insistent rhymes and emotional resonances. During the '80s I spent time in Greece, a few months each year, in a stone cottage on Ios, and the "pagan skies" of the Cyclades remain lodged within me, "imperishable down the decades." 

Cynthia Hogue

Cynthia Hogue

The Reason of Age

                      & bryophytes rested on the soil //

                      as the soul might rest on the what ifs —

                                        — Brenda Hillman, “In a Few Minutes Before Later”

1

 

The soul’s tithe for the mind’s lucidity 

is caring about what’s said and done. 

 

Nothing focuses thought so well as words 

activating neurons to prod conscience.

 

Once, if confronted, you’d dance away

in trills over the surface rhetoric glossed. 

 

However stable words seemed, they moved 

and you were moved by them, to follow  


 

2

 

or forget. Bewildered. Carefree. 

Now’s no time to settle for anything less 

 

than a quest, like the pilgrim 

you’d imagined becoming. You seek 

 

old souls leaving the city. Ask them: 

Is age compatible with science? What if 

 

you can’t understand what they say? 

What if you don’t know what to do? 


 

3

 

In the night sky, one star visible. Below, 

floodlights for the performance.  

 

You are safe from all cares

as you listen on a summer’s lawn, 

 

sound calming mind, 

the body at last at rest, 

 

and before you, the monks 

in their robes on the stage. 

On the Path, Flowering

Rare though

no anomaly in the high desert. 

 

No "out-of-placeness" I could transplant 

with loam on the land or malodorous scent 

 

warning of natural danger.

In the end I learn that the gift,

 

the toxic blue flowers of sacred datura,

so delicious to the immune pollinators —

 

the sphinx-moth, hummingbird and bee —

is for us deliriant, inspirant 

 

to open to

a “deeper

 

impenetrability of spirit,”

its fragile boon.



 

Note: Phrases in quotations are from Martha Nussbaum's characterization of Sophocles, as referenced in Nikhil Krishnan's essay on Wittgenstein in The New Yorker, May 16, 2022.

From Ultima Thule
 

1

 

Once a forest grew near the glacier. 

After weather shifted over time, cold came.

The harvested trees couldn't re-seed. 

Saplings withered, frozen. Lichen,

moss grew well on stones in rivers,

which, with the forests cleared, wavered 

like dreams in the light from a mist of sun. 

 

We learned to love all things barren

and bare, as you might surmise,

the surprise of what survived, 

what crept off, curled up, dried.

We thought of the change at first

as a grave, so many had died.

We braced ourselves to wait.


 

2

 

Some were trapped far below

in tunnels of ice

where they languished. 

We knew this, 

who escaped above ground 

breathing the privilege of cold air. 

We'd thought to climb to safety, 

but without trees we were targets, 

huddling on the white tundra 

of a devastation where forests 

ghosted horizon.

 

 

3

 

We opened a box filled with the ashes

of dreams we thought we'd lost.

Ashes cannot be

like a phoenix

arisen from, nor dreams —

often forgotten — be resurrected

for they’d never lived.

Has anyone ever held hands in a dream

or felt them, stuck deep

in morning's pockets?


 

4

 

As if we inhabited a module

made of the stories of ghosts,

we planned our rendezvous with the elements,

the ones we could trust,

the tenderness of wind and our reverence 

for water's fate, a tremor of vapor 

become the abstract question of rain.

We sought answers beneath trees

fresh in their terrible absence, a certainty 

rubbing doubt raw.


 

5

 

We wake disordered, 

disoriented, gaze bearing down

on the single pebble, the one blade

before us as if the whole field 

were rolled into words,

a landscape freed from sensation,

wrapped in its winding sheet

of ice, curtained off from breath,

the sense of days being endlessly ample. 

Did I put that right? 

Do you understand that we're not deprived of air's surfeit

but consumed by it, like trees

which in burning shed their seeds.

Cynthia Hogue’s new poetry collection is instead, it is dark (Red Hen Press, 2023). Her ekphrastic Covid chapbook is entitled Contain (Tram Editions 2022), and her new collaborative translation from the French of Nicole Brossard is Distantly (Omnidawn 2022). She served as Guest Editor for Poem-a-Day for September (2022), sponsored by the Academy of American Poets. Hogue was the inaugural Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry at Arizona State University. She lives in Tucson. 


 

About the Poems: All these poems are in some loose sense part of a broader “pilgrimage” mindset, the poet as seeker, but also the poet prodding conscience into vision. “The Reason of Age” was commissioned by the University of Arizona’s Poetry Center, that I write a poem about aging and science. I am learning about the former, but knew little of the latter. I think of it both as quest and performance. I could say that I was performing a particular knowledge of the science of aging (although I was not). The final series is excerpted from a dystopian serial poem. The landscape is the Iceland I knew 35 years ago when I lived there, but the consciousness is very much an awareness of what Ukrainian – and now Gazan – civilians are going through. Everyone needs a “deeper impenetrability of spirit” to survive psychically. It haunts me. 

Christopher Buckley

Christopher Buckley

Long Time Ago Tomorrow

                      The important thing to remember is

                      that I’m probably going to forget . . .

 

Now when I say, “just the other day,”

                                                             it might mean 

last week, or 20 years ago . . .  

                                                   After a month of abstinence, 

I sit down with a glass of wine and

                                                          hardly a minute passes 

before I’m just happy 

                                    to be here, 

                                                       among bare liquidambars,

feeling some small satisfaction

                                                  to have not lost all my hair,

forgetting the time-lapse relation 

                                                      of high-tech gizmos 

and my hapless heart,

                                    those bits keeping me vertical 

on the planet.

                         What were the odds I’d last this long? 

I raise my glass to

                               clinical researches, cardiological wizards,

titanium miners everywhere, 

                                                  and of course the makers of 

fine pinot noir!

                            I float back to days when ligaments and bones, 

(not to say synapses) were limber, 

                                                          well-oiled and working 

like nobody’s business

                                      as I raced around the schoolyard

or sat in my desk raising

                                         an exuberant hand to proclaim

the invisible

                      “You understood” as subject for the blank 

in the diagram on the chalkboard.

                                                       Not long thereafter, 

working 2 jobs at once,

                                        50 still looked like a land far beyond

the sea 

              until one day I washed up on that defeated shore . . .

which was, by most accounts, middle-age?

 

*           *           *

These days, no one tells me

                                              I’m an “old soul” as we used to say

in the ‘60s to ingratiate ourselves, to sound mystical and hip.

But if someone did, 

                                  they wouldn’t be far off 

                                                                           the mark now —

no reincarnation or mysterious agencies required.

                                                                                      Any secrets

back there linger in a boy’s sea-grey uniform shirt, 

                                                                                      and each time 

I catch myself daydreaming

                                                I find I have less to bring to the table

insofar as hope obtains, given the sea water 

                                                                           in my veins, and 

the dead making their way back in dreams—

                                                                            my compadre reading 

from pages yellowed as the moon, 

                                                          not so much warning or advice 

in his voice 

                    as an old-world relic of affection, 

                                                                             insofar as anyone 

can hold on to any part of that 

                                                      wrestling the spindrift of time . . .

in which I never find myself

                                                in a white dinner jacket 

meeting Ilsa Lund in the shadows 

                                                          of the casino 

after counting up the take . . .

                                                   though I do recall a world of 

black & white, an orchestra playing “Perfidia” 

                                                                             in the dancefloor 

flashback to Paris

                               before I drift to an afternoon in fall 

at a table in my pal’s back yard, 

                                                      or a small café on Olive Street 

with coffee . . .

                    I drop a cube of sugar into each of our cups,

a small cloud of cream 

                                       where memory might hold when I wake, 

an emblem, road sign, some refuge

                                                            to ascribe meaning to 

this side of the sky— 

                                    though now, sitting in the dusk, 

                                                                                           it comes 

to little more than light dissolving in a scrum of clouds,

sauntering off to who-knows-where . . .

                                                                   a last drift of affection, 

as I think I said . . . .



 


 

At the Bus Station in Fresno

Deep into fall, 

and I’ve done little 

more than sit here

all morning among 

the wet leaves

plastered on the sidewalk,

some smoke going up

in the west. 

                    An hour ago, 

someone I almost recognized, 

stepped out of the gray 

air and into a taxi headed 

up to the Tower District,

and left me thinking 

of my compadre 

of youth and middle age, 

gone 5 years now

from these streets, and 

who, despite the fierce 

mercies of his poems,

has not returned

in the burnished 

October light 

spiking through dreams

and the Chinese elms

of East Brown. 

No up-dates or information 

is available beyond 

the rust of civic lawns,

the dying radiance

of roses—a line of clouds 

drifting by without one clause

in the conditional tense

that has me thinking

of the afterlife for a while, 

but seeing nothing

that even approximates 

a basket of sweet by-and-bys 

left by the cat’s dish

on the porch . . . 

 

Nothing for it 

but to be grateful 

for 40-some years, 

for bus fare and

a paper cup of tea

in my hands, 

the time to waste

sitting here with the dust 

on Tulare Street 

where bus drivers 

are as taken with

an ice-white, midday

moon as mystics—

both staring out to 

the same end . . .  

 

Pushing and lifting,

hand-over-hand

all those years,  

I’m at a loss 

to say what’s left 

to do, where 

I’m headed now?  

Houses I knew 

are empty as fields 

in Firebaugh, Fowler, 

or Madera, and 

I almost feel I know 

these workers, 

these pobrecitos who, 

though not nearly my age 

are not all that young, 

who are also waiting 

quietly with a suitcase 

or sun-rotted gym bag, 

one with a sandwich 

in a paper sack —

its grease stain the only spot 

of hope for miles . . . .

Christopher Buckley has recently edited The Long Embrace: Contemporary Poets on the Long Poems of Philip Levine, Lynx House Press, and NAMING THE LOST: THE FRESNO POETS—Interviews & Essays, Stephen F. Austin State Univ. Press, 2021. His work was selected for Best American Poetry 2021 and his most recent book of poetry is One Sky to the Next, winner of the Longleaf Press Book Prize, 2023.


 

About the Poems: This one, “Long Time Ago Tomorrow,” got going with a phrase I heard, intended for some “senior” humor, re “just the other day” relating to recently or long ago. That resonated for me in a more serious way of course as everything has gone by so quickly, and I go back to childhood often now trying to make sense of what I didn’t know but had some vague notion of. Tying a lot then from “just the other day” images and events together here, some of my favorite bits from Casablanca, and going back to my days in Fresno and my best poet pal there Jon Veinberg who we lost way too soon. So that movement through time, the little dust of remembrance and meaning I can glean from it.

Thank you for reading Nine Mile Magazine.

Nine Mile Fall 2023 Vol 11 No 2 Cover: Red chair and ottoman, book laid open on the ottoman, glasses atop the book.
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