NewMusicShelf Anthology of New Music: Mezzo-Soprano, Vol. 1

Murphy, Nicole: air stirs

April’s air stirs in
willow-leaves… A butterfly
floats and balances

— Matsuo Bashō

Buller, Mark: From the Unreal

from To the Soul

From the unreal,
     lead me to the real.
From the darkness
     lead me to the light.
From death
     lead me to immortality.

— The Upanishads

Windels, Ed: Blackbird Etude

from Opus 22 Songs

The blackbird sings at
the frontier of his music.
The branch where he sat

marks the brink of doubt,
is the outpost of his realm,
edge from which to rout

encroachers with trills
and melismatic runs sur-
passing earthbound skills.

It sounds like ardor,
it sounds like joy. We are glad
here at the border

where he signs the air
with his invisible staves,
“Trespassers beware”—

Song as survival—
a kind of pure music which
we cannot rival.

– A.E. Stallings

Mackay, Shona: Silent Noon

from Three Songs

Your hands lie open in the long fresh grass,—
The finger-points look through like rosy blooms:
Your eyes smile peace. The pasture gleams and glooms
‘Neath billowing skies that scatter and amass.
All round our nest, far as the eye can pass,
Are golden kingcup fields with silver edge
Where the cow-parsley skirts the hawthorn-hedge.
‘Tis visible silence, still as the hour-glass.

Deep in the sun-searched growths the dragon-fly
Hangs like a blue thread loosened from the sky:—
So this wing’d hour is dropt to us from above.
Oh! clasp we to our hearts, for deathless dower,
This close-companioned inarticulate hour
When twofold silence was the song of love.

— Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Fisk, Douglas: love is a place

from Three Songs

love is a place
& through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)
all places

yes is a world
& in this world of
yes live
(skilfully curled)
all worlds

— E.E. Cummings

Goble, Jodi: I Would Live in Your Love

from Three Teasdale Songs

I would live in your love as the sea-grasses live in the sea,
Borne up by each wave as it passes, drawn down by each wave that recedes;
I would empty my soul of the dreams that have gathered in me,
I would beat with your heart as it beats, I would follow your soul as it leads.

— Sara Teasdale

Pazdziora, Eric: Thief's Song

from The Accidental Feast of the Holy Fool

A fool is to be poked, sir,
A pocket to be picked,
A penny to be pinched, sir,
A nickel to be nicked.

Hands in the pockets, boys,
Silent now, make no noise.
Hands in the pockets, noys
All day long.

A miser’s to be misled, ma’am,
A wastrel’s to be wasted,
A treated to be treasured, ma’am,
A treasure to be tasted.

A kiss to be collected, lords,
a keister to be kicked,
A purse is to be pocketed,
a pocket to be picked.

Hands in the pockets, boys,
Silent now, make no noise.
Hands in the pockets, noys
All day long.

— Jane Yolen

Haxo, Cara: Im Harren

Das schöne Beet betracht ich mir im Harren,
Es ist umzäunt mit purpurn-schwarzem Dorne,
Und in der Mitte Glocken, weiss und mild –
Das schöne Beet betracht ich mir im Harren.

— Stefan George

Theisen, Alan: Look Down Fair Moon

Look down, fair moon, and bathe this scene;
Pour softly down night’s nimbus floods, on faces ghastly, swollen, purple;
On the dead, on their backs, with their arms toss’d wide,
Pour down your unstinted nimbus, sacred moon.

— Walt Whitman

Touizrar, Moe: Dark Pines Under Water

This land like a mirror turns you inward
And you become a forest in a furtive lake;
The dark pines of your mind reach downward,
You dream in the green of your time,
Your memory is a row of sinking pines.

Explorer, you tell yourself, this is not what you came for
Although it is good here, and green;
You had meant to move with a kind of largeness,
You had planned a heavy grace, an anguished dream.

But the dark pines of your mind dip deeper
And you are sinking, sinking, sleeper
In an elementary world;
There is something down there and you want it told.

— Gwendolyn MacEwen

Manfredonia, Tony: Prairie Dawn

A crimson fire that vanquishes the stars;
A pungent odor from the dusty sage;
A sudden stirring of the huddled herds;
A breaking of the distant table-lands
Through purple mists ascending, and the flare
Of water ditches silver in the light;
A swift, bright lance hurled low across the world;
A sudden sickness for the hills of home.

— Willa Cather

Betteridge, Michael: First time he kissed me...

First time he kissed me, he but only kissed
The fingers of this hand wherewith I write,
And ever since it grew more clean and white,…
Slow to world-greetings…quick with its “Oh, list,”
When the angels speak. A ring of amethyst
I could not wear here plainer to my sight,
Than that first kiss. The second passed in height
The first, and sought the forehead, and half missed,
Half falling on the hair. O beyond meed!
That was the chrism of love, which love’s own crown,
With sanctifying sweetness, did precede.
The third, upon my lips, was folded down
In perfect, purple state! since when, indeed,
I have been proud and said, “My Love, my own.”

— Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Frey, Matt: Without a Thorn

In a hidden summer garden
On a hazy summer night,
I saw you there, among the flowers
In the fading summer twilight.

I reached me hand out toward your petals.
I longed to pluck you from your bed.
Before I did, I felt a singing.
I looked down. I saw red.

I’m searching for a rose without a thorn.

It’s not the first time I’ve bled in secret.
It’s not the first time I saw my skin get torn.
Tomorrow morning, I’ll just keep trying.
I just can’t stop myself from chasing unicorns.

I’m searching for a rose without a thorn.

— Matt Frey

Livingston, Cecilia: Give Me Your Hand

…light, a light: I must have light-
light thickens in the eye, grows scarce;
the stars hide; I have known them all.
No time, no sleep: the taste of fear.

‘…sleep no more’, you said; a voice cried,
‘sleep no more’. If I cry out will
you not hear? Will there be time
to hold a candle to despair?

Will there be time to murder and
create? No time, no time: you have
no time for me, not for a word;
no time, only tomorrow and-

I must have light: a small white home
that blooms around this kindled sun,
this piece of star we keep alive
with cupp’d hands, wax and string.

Stare in the taper; look away;
light lingers like a lifted touch:
a vision strung through dust and dreams
for all the works and days of hands.

…all blood is ink that stains the skin,
blank pages flesh without a heart
feel no more heat, no chill of grace,
no more luxury of eyes.

…wash these small hands, tie on this gown-
no sleep, you told me: sleep no more;
look not so pale, give me your hand:
the stars hide, they have known us all.

— Duncan McFarlane

Pollock, Frances: Scheherazade

Tell me about the dream where we pull the bodies out of the lake
and dress them in warm clothes again.
How it was late, and no one could sleep, the horses running
until they forget that they are horses.
It’s not like a tree where the roots have to end somewhere,
it’s more like a song on a policeman’s radio,
how we rolled up the carpet so we could dance, and the days
were bright red, and every time we kissed there was another apple
to slice into pieces.
Look at the light through the windowpane. That means it’s noon, that means
we’re inconsolable.
Tell me how all this, and love too, will ruin us.
These, our bodies, possessed by light.
Tell me we’ll never get used to it.

— Richard Siken

DeCesare, Stephen: Sister Maude

Who told my mother of my shame,
Who told my father of my dear?
Oh who but Maude, my sister Maude,
Who lurked to spy and peer.

Cold he lies, as cold as stone,
With his clotted curls about his face:
The comeliest corpse in all the world
And worthy of a queen’s embrace.

You might have spared his soul, sister,
Have spared my soul, your own soul too:
Though I had not been born at all,
He’d never have looked at you.

My father may sleep in Paradise,
My mother at Heaven-gate:
But sister Maude shall get no sleep
Either early or late.

My father may wear a golden gown,
My mother a crown may win;
If my dear and I knocked at Heaven-gate
Perhaps they’d let us in:
But sister Maude, oh sister Maude,
Bide you with death and sin.

— Christina Rossetti

Tobenski, Dennis: Good Bones

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

— Maggie Smith

Gordon, Ricky Ian: Let Evening Come

from Late Afternoon

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

— Jane Kenyon

Lam, Cameron: Death

from Fragments of Solitude

Die, beloved enemy,
let my fault die, and your disdain, too late
a penitent, keep for it
a mere sigh that makes my death content
though it is not follow by
a fleeting or indifferent or weary
tear that dries before it is even wept.

— from The Solitudes by Luis de Góngora; trans. Edith Grossman

Seeholzer, Julia: Prayer at my parting

from Portraits of Disquiet

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the time,
for the times you could have laughed
but didn’t, for the times you could
have joined your other kids
in their pursuits
in the bathrooms, in the halls,
in the darkened areas between,
thank you for only watching.
Thank you for teaching me
that there are no do-overs,
that we need to learn
to breathe quickly
or be forever strangled.

I ask that you let me go gently,
that you let me dance,
let me laugh and let me love,
that you let me live
like an honest being,
even though we have
some basic disagreement
to the nature of that honesty.

And to my Immortal Mother,

I know, all those times,
that you snuck me comfort
in times of estrangement,
you took me to the top of the hill
to see the city lights,
behind His back,
and that above it all
the connections between us
are all so very clear.

I wish I could talk to you,
I wish I could thank you too,
I wish he wasn’t a dark gulf
between us, as though I were the rich man,
without ever being either.

In royal Abraham’s bosom,
there’s no milk, no honey,
yet they flock to him like
he was the mother of us all.

I know that you know,
and that is important to me.
When I needed a sister’s shoulder,
you were there,
when I needed a mother’s comfort,
you provided,
when I needed a mentor,
you taught me.
Thank you.

— Kendall A.