The Portrait

Stanley Kunitz

My mother never forgave my father
for killing himself,
especially at such an awkward time
and in a public park,
that spring
when I was waiting to be born.
She locked his name
in her deepest cabinet
and would not let him out,
though I could hear him thumping.
When I came down from the attic
with the pastel portrait in my hand
of a long-lipped stranger
with a brave moustache
and deep brown level eyes,
she ripped it into shreds
without a single word
and slapped me hard.
In my sixty-fourth year
I can feel my cheek
still burning.
E 9th Street

Ricky Cantor

I’m from mental illness and corner bars
and taking parts from stolen cars.

I’m from fights at three thirty
and ass whipping ’til next morning.

I’m from a drunken father and a pissed off mother
and was raised by my older sister and brother.

I’m from parents that are Mexican
and I’m ashamed to say that I’m American.

I’m from hard boiled eggs and government cheese
oh, and did I mention ass beating.

I’m from joyrides at five
and a brother that loves to say access denied.

I’m from a sister who’s worse than crazy
and two little brothers that are fucking lazy.
Devices On Standby

Kelly Ann Malone

I’ve tucked away two forty-fours.
They’re deep within a wall.
Their bullets line my dresser drawers
and wait for me to call.

Two vials filled with cyanide
are safe within their space.
I’ve stashed them in a pot outside
beneath the Queen Anne’s lace.

Two gleaming knives to slit my wrists
sit nestled in a shed.
I’ll use them if my grief persists
to soak my ivory bed.

Two slipknots made of sturdy rope
sit limp upon a chair.
It helps me when I cannot cope
to know that they are there.

You ask me why they come in two’s?
the need for added stress?
In case the first one that I choose
is launched without success.

I’ve had these items in my house
for over forty years.
I’ve hid them from my kids and spouse,
my neighbors and my peers.

I tried to do it years ago,
but then I had a boy.
And two more children in a row
brought intermittent joy.

At last I thought my work was done,
and I could end my life.
But now my daughter has a son,
my son now has a wife.

I’ll get around to my demise
and give in to despair,
when I can look into their eyes
and tell them I don’t care.
june 20

Lucille Clifton

i will be born in one week
to a frowned forehead of a woman
and a man whose fingers will itch
to enter me. she will crochet
a dress for me of silver
and he will carry me in it.
they will do for each other
all that they can
but it will not be enough.
none of us know that we will not
smile again for years,
that she will not live long.
in one week i will emerge face first
into their temporary joy.
Up

Margaret Atwood

You wake up filled with dread.
There seems no reason for it.
Morning light sifts through the window,
there is birdsong,
you can’t get out of bed.

It’s something about the crumpled sheets
hanging over the edge like jungle
foliage, the terry slippers gaping
their dark pink mouths for your feet,
the unseen breakfast — some of it
in the refrigerator you do not dare
to open — you will not dare to eat.

What prevents you? The future. The future tense,
immense as outer space.
You could get lost there.
No. Nothing so simple. The past, its destiny
and drowned events pressing you down,
like sea water, like gelatin
filling your lungs instead of air.

Forget all that and let’s get up.
Try moving your arm.
Try moving your head.
Pretend the house is on fire
and you must run or burn.
No, that one’s useless.
It’s never worked before.

Where is it coming from, this echo,
this huge No that surrounds you,
silent as the folds of the yellow
curtains, mute as the cheerful

Mexican bowl with its cargo
of mummified flowers?
(You chose the colors of the sun,
not the dried neutrals of shadow.
God knows you’ve tried.)

Now here’s a good one:
you’re lying on your deathbed.
You have one hour to live.
Who is it, exactly, you have needed
all these years to forgive?

“The Portrait” is from The Collected Poems by Stanley Kunitz. Copyright © 2000 by Stanley Kunitz. Reprinted with permission of W.W. Norton & Company. All rights reserved. The poem later appeared in A Mind Apart: Poems of Melancholy, Madness, and Addiction, edited by Mark S. Bauer and published by Oxford University Press.

“E 9th Street” is from Thinking Hurts, published by New Urban Arts, and later appeared in A Mind Apart: Poems of Melancholy, Madness, and Addiction, edited by Mark S. Bauer and published by Oxford University Press. Reprinted with permission of the author.

“Devices on Standby” is from A Mind Apart: Poems of Melancholy, Madness, and Addiction, edited by Mark S. Bauer and published by Oxford University Press. Reprinted with permission of the author.

“june 20” is from The Book of Light. Copyright © 1993 by Lucille Clifton. Reprinted with permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

“Up” is from Morning in the Burned House. Copyright © 1995 by Margaret Atwood. Reprinted with permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.