Dante’s Inferno Canto I

Translated by Seamus Heaney

In the middle of the journey of our life

I found myself astray in a dark wood

where the straight road had been lost sight of.

How hard it is to say what it was like

in the thick of thickets, in a wood so dense

and gnarled

the very thought of it renews my panic.

It is bitter almost as death itself is bitter.

But to rehearse the good it also brought me

I will speak about the other things I saw there

How I got into it I cannot clearly say

for I was moving like a sleepwalker

the moment I stepped out of the right way,

But when I came to the bottom of a hill

standing off at the far end of that valley

where a great terror had disheartened me

I looked up, and saw how its shoulders glowed

already in the rays of the planet

which leads and keeps men straight on every road.

Then I sensed a quiet influence settling

into those depths in me that had been rocked

and pitifully troubled all night long

And as a survivor gasping on the sand

turns his head back to study in a daze

the dangerous combers, so my mind

Turned back, although it was reeling forward,

back to inspect a pass that had proved fatal

heretofore to everyone who entered.

A Distant Relation by John Cooper Clarke

A family affair.

We get the picture,

We’re in it somewhere.

Permanent fixtures.

People who care.

Stranger beware,

This is a family affair

All of our yesterday’s.

Familiar rings,

I have to get away,

Its breaking my heart strings.

We have a drink,

On special occasions,

It makes me think,

About distant relations,

A family affair.

Always a mixture.

Of people in chairs,

Permanent fixtures,

With pressure to bear.

People who care.

This is a family affair.

Holiday snapshots.

Of you and myself.

Acting the crackpot,

Like everyone else.

The Bermuda shorts,

and the summer creations,

Bringing thoughts,

of those distant relations.

A family affair.

We brake ornaments, and get them repaired,

We bring up past events that hang in the air.

This is a family affair.

All our yesterdays.

Familiar rings.

I have to get away, from some sourroundings.

Weddings and funerals, special occasions,

And all the usual distant relations.

A family affair.

Look at this picture.

We’re in there, look there.

Permanent fixtures.

People who care,

Whisper who dares,

This is a family affair.

The Journey By Alan King

Each day is a little life: every waking and rising

a little birth, every fresh morning a little youth,

every going to rest and sleep a little death.

       -Arthur Schopenhauer

The diner’s nearly empty
when you both arrive – except for
the six or so other patrons and
a waitress who calls everyone “Hun”.

The fluorescent lights lick the Formica bar
and chrome stools, the black and purple beaten
booths and a straw-headed boy staring at you
over cold chicken strips, the ketchup
a sticky scab on his plate.

He reminds you of the little girls
the night before, running through a restaurant
in Berlin, Maryland, where you stayed at a hotel
known to be an antique –

its hardwood bathroom floors, the claw-
footed tub with its wraparound shower curtain,
the portraits of hoop-skirted women
twirling parasols, the prairie-style
wooden armoire closet.

The two girls, laughing as they ran through
the Drummers Cafe, stopped at the sight
of you and your wife, the only black people
in the restaurant that night.

When you remember the patrons’ darting
eyes at your wife’s dreadlocks, the way
the hostess smiled past you to the white family
she sat, while you waited,

when all around you the consensus
seemed to echo the nursery rhyme:
How did it get so late so soon?

It’s night before it’s afternoon,

you remember the loneliness
of feeling like the only one fighting for sanity
when the world makes you someone else.

You watch your wife rub her full moon
and talk to your daughter 27 weeks alive
inside her, knowing that each day is a little life,
each step towards progress a little birth,

even if the journey is full of off ramps,
like the one that brought you both
to a bright diner on your way home,

to the slurping straw that says
the blond boy’s savoring what’s left
of his chocolate shake before he sacks out
on the plush seat – his mom flipping through
a magazine, picking at her fries.

You watch him wrapped in his blue blanket –
as if sleep weren’t a little death; as if the world
weren’t a dark dream, haunted by a boogeyman’s
appetite for innocent things.”

The Book of Silence by Rasheed Copeland

We learned

from the book

of our fathers’ silence

how to speak

of young girls

in the way

old white men

speak of game

they’ve hunted

and mounted

on trophy walls.

The same book

that taught us

how to make

young girls

fake orgasms

and mourn their lost

virginities

while handling

little boy pride

with the delicacy

it requires.

This book,

void of chapters

on love,

on how to listen

to her skin’s soliloquy,

and on how to treat such

sacred treaty

of body and soul

less like a pillaging

and more like a litany

worth protecting,

is the book

from which I learned

how to both

break and be broken

without even knowing.

Bryant Park at Dusk by Geoffrey Brock

Floodlights have flared on behind and above

Where I sit in my public chair.

The lawn that had gradually darkened has brightened.

The library windows stare.

I’m alone in a crowd—e pluribus plures.

Far from a family I miss.

I’d almost say I’m lonely, but lonely

Is worse, I recall, than this.

Loneliness is a genuine poverty.

I’m like a man who is flush

But forgot his wallet on the nightstand

When he left for work in a rush,

And now must go without food and coffee

For a few hours more than he’d wish.

That’s all. He still has a wallet. It’s bulging.

It floats through his brain like a fish…

Money for love: a terrible simile,

But maybe it’s fitting here,

A couple of blocks from Madison Avenue

Where commodities are dear,

Where all around me, rich skyscrapers

Woo the impoverished sky,

Having sent on their way the spent commuters

Who stream, uncertain, by—

And as for this whole splurge of a city,

Isn’t money at its heart?

But I’m blathering now. Forgetting my subject.

What I meant to say at the start

Is that I noticed a woman reading

In a chair not far from mine.

Silver-haired, calm, she stirred a hunger

Hard for me to define,

Perhaps because she doesn’t seem lonely.

And what I loved was this:

The way, when dusk had darkened her pages,

As if expecting a kiss,

She closed her eyes and threw her head back,

Book open on her lap.

Perhaps she was thinking about her story,

Or the fall air, or a nap.

I thought she’d leave me then for pastimes

More suited to the dark.

But she is on intimate terms, it seems,

With the rhythms of Bryant Park,

For that’s when the floodlights came on, slowly,

Somewhere far above my need,

And the grass grew green again, and the woman

Reopened her eyes to read

Constellation by Andrés Montoya

there are the stars

and the sickle stare

of the moon

there are the frogs

dancing in the joy

of the ditch and the crickets

serenading everything

there are the trees

and the huge shadow

of the wind whispering

the old hymns of my childhood

and of course, there are the stars again.

winking at me like a curious woman.

i am learning to breathe