Poems by the award-winning poets Maureen McLane, Timothy Liu, and Paula Bohince. Each pair of poems loosely explores and complicates notions of non-duality and oneness—in spiritual, physical, or psychological terms.
As the new poetry editor for Psychology Tomorrow Magazine, I am excited to present this first batch of poems by the award-winning poets Maureen McLane, Timothy Liu, and Paula Bohince. Taking the lead of Jeff Warren’s second essay installment on non-duality, the following poems, though formally and tonally distinct, each augment, complicate, or deepen traditional notions of oneness.
While Maureen McLane meditates on the individual’s connection to the physical world and to those around her, Timothy Liu explores both a desire for romantic oneness and a troubling, if momentary, psychological fissure. Paula Bohince’s ekphrastic poems, by their very nature, pronounce the interconnectedness of various artistic mediums, while, too, speaking to the inevitability that “approximation / is failure.”
Even if I had plenty to do
I would still look at clouds.
Every day the sky organizes itself
as if for watchers.
In the storm, the deer pauses, legs charged.
Then he resumes eating grass.
In the boathouse we talk of love
or sex or getting laid.
There are so many things to confide.
Today I am keeping faith with the sky.
Boulders flung everywhere
signs of the glacier god
marking the path you can’t take.
“I am in Brooklyn
but not of Brooklyn.”
“Do you have an avidity
for the new?”
is very slow
until it makes itself felt.
Makes you feel it.
“I need to write
good fast music.
All my good music
How should a person be?
“I am happy
to be contemporary.”
“I am glad I will die
before all this prevails.”
In child pose
you breathe through the back.
Then there’s the rest,
all those positions
you flow or stumble through
until that rock. That specific rock.
by Maureen McLane
Maureen N. McLane is the author of World Enough: poems (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2010), Same Life: Poems (FSG, 2008), and My Poets (FSG, 2012), a work of experimental prose which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award in Autobiography. Her third book of poems, This Blue, will be published by FSG in April 2014. She is the author as well of two books on British romantic poetry and culture, Balladeering, Minstrelsy, and the Making of British Romantic Poetry (2008) and Romanticism and the Human Sciences (2000), both from Cambridge University Press. An Associate Professor of English at NYU, she has published essays on poetry, fiction, teaching, and sexuality in The New York Times, Boston Review, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and many other venues. Winner of the National Book Critics Circle’s Nona Balakian Award for Excellence in Book Reviewing, she is currently a contributing editor at Boston Review and poetry editor of Grey.
LOVE LETTER: FRENCH QUARTER
Two pigeons on my porch
ringed violet and green
in a Mardi-Gras iridescence.
Dirty squabs. Bullying
a sparrow away from the crumbs
sirens drowning out
the St. Louis Cathedral bells
whose tones caress not one but two
plaster touchdown Jesuses
anchoring their respective lawns
no tourist dare walk upon,
not on a day like today.
Who wouldn’t want to be
manicured like them
when the magnolias start
throwing down their blooms
in a shower of wilted
shoehorn splatter—the whole day
stained by the heavy scent
of honeysuckle wreathing the air
with its seasonal jazz—
sauntering through alleys
looking for a handout
I don’t have, only a glance
of sweet malaise, my sawdust
throat humming a tune
that has no name.
THE VIGIL I KEEP WHEN NOTHING CAN BE KEPT
He burdened me with unspoken prayers
pooling about a suicidal wish. In the jungle
I wanted nothing but to wash the river water
out of my clothes, my hair, stench of swamp
that clung to my skin, my wrists, my insides
coated with coca leaves never to be used
in ritual. How is it there are some who stare
into dawn’s molten eye, impossibly fed,
managing without oil, sugar or salt—eyes
purged of tears, mouths filled with songs
only strangler vines could teach, crushed leaves
boiled in open vats under a waxen moon
where the cicadas rattle their metallic dirge
and whatever voice I thought was mine
is drowned—that whole flatulent alphabet
of all that I thought I had learned blown out
of my ass with the force of a conch shell’s
clarion call sounding from those star-kissed
mountain tops no cell-phone tower has ever
reached? Only then did I find myself
curled fetal on a lunar-mottled jungle floor
filled with a drunken nausea and unable
to give birth to some vague sense of what
I thought I wanted to become crashing through
the layers of my broken selves, no longer
knowing who or where I was, only that I was.
by Timothy Liu
Timothy Liu is the author of ten books of poems, including the forthcoming Don’t Go Back To Sleep (Saturnalia Books, 2014) and Let It Ride (Sation Hill, 2015). With poems translated into many languages, Liu’s journals and papers are archived in the Berg Collection at the New York Public Library. Liu is a Professor of English at William Paterson University and lives with his husband in Manhattan. His website can be found at: timothyliu.comuf.com.
COURTESAN WITH HER ATTENDANT
To be pleasing is an art. The apprentice steps into her charisma
as after a blizzard, following a mother, in snow’s left-behind hollows.
As imitation bends toward knowledge, so pleasure
becomes a version of love.
When the lantern’s lit, carried by
a stranger, then extinguished, and that man disrobes in her presence,
she must become the blown wick, made strong from experience.
PEACOCK IN A MAPLE TREE
Without. Aggrieved. Forced to woo the like-
hued maple, whose leaves are sad versions
of feathers. Poor tree cannot help
what it is. Cannot offer
permanent comfort, cannot become lover.
In the end, approximation
Roosting in the lesser, beak buried
in breast, last resort of flesh,
it hides as the desperate will awhile in any sex.
by Paula Bohince
Paula Bohince is the author of The Children and Incident at the Edge of Bayonet Woods. She has been the Amy Lowell Poetry Travelling Scholar, the Dartmouth Poet in Residence at the Frost Place, and an NEA Fellow. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, Poetry, The TLS, and Granta. She lives in Pennsylvania.