PI Sampler: Part Three

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  • October 3, 2008

Here’s the third and final installment of the Poetry International sampler.  It includes some of my favorites: “Sad Stories Told in Bars,” by William Matthews which originally appeared in Poetry International Nine;  “Children,” by Julian Kornhauser, which originally appeared in Poetry International Ten; “The Women of Kismayo,” by Susan Rich, which originally appeared in Poetry International Eleven; and “Nice,” by Barbara Crooker which originally appeared in Poetry International Twelve—our most recent issue.  Sadly, Issue 9 is sold out, but the rest of our catalogue is available for purchase or perusal at our website.

Sad Stories Told in Bars: The Reader’s Digest Version

First I was born and it was tough on Mom.
Dad felt left out. There’s much I can’t recall.
I seethed my way to speech and said a lot
of things: some were deemed cute.  I was so small
my likely chance was growth, and so I grew.
Long days in school I filled, like a spring creek,
with boredom. Sex I discovered soon
enough, I now think. Sweet misery!

There’s not enough room in a poem so curt
to get me out of adolescence, yet
I’m nearing fifty with a limp, and dread
the way the dead get stacked up like a cord
of wood.  Not much of a story is it?
The life that matters not the one I’ve led.

–William Matthews



are smarter than us
know everything
even nothing to them has the hue of a chestnut
see mountains where we don’t see them
seas splash when nothing is heard
through their crooked teeth slip out
words known to no one
under dirty fingernails fear lurks
and an inexpressible adventure
when they run
their oversized shoes cackle
and their hair sticks to the wind
when they’re silent
their eyes express so much adult longing
they stand on tiptoe
to touch what’s forbidden
they try to wrestle with rules
to be able to tell the difference
between a joke and fear
sometimes they lie quietly on the floor
casting strange spells
and then the glass falls from the table
opportunity arises
a crayon moves slowly across the white wall

–Julian Kornhauser
Translated from the Polish by Piotr Florczyk


The Women Of Kismayo

The breasts of Kismayo assembled
along the mid-day market street.

No airbrushed mangoes, no
black lace, no under-wire chemise.

No half-cupped pleasures,
no come-hither nods, no Italian

centerfolds.  Simply the women
of the town telling their men

to take action, to do something
equally bold.  And the husbands

on their way home, expecting
sweet yams and meat,

moaned and covered their eyes,
screamed like spoiled children

dredged abruptly from sleep–
incredulous that their women

could unbutton such beauty
for other clans, who

(in between splayed
hands) watched quite willingly.

Give us your guns, here is our
cutlery, we are the men!

the women sang to them
an articulation without shame.

And now in the late night hour
when men want nothing but rest,

they fold their broken bodies, still
watched by their wives’ cool breasts

round, full, commanding as colonels–
two taut nipples targeting each man.

–Susan Rich

after “La Promenade des Anglais à Nice,”  Raoul Dufy

The row of palm trees curved along the Baie des Anges
like a strand of beads on the long white neck
of a beautiful woman, and the blue Mediterranean
filled the windows of our small hotel.  At night,
the waves rattled the stones like someone washing
chain mail, or a woman searching

for something she’d lost.
Blue, blue, everywhere blue—Maritime Alpes
off in the distance, paint on this table, trim
on the walls.  At the market in the vielle ville,
blue shellfish, crabs and mussels displayed
like needlepoint, and sea holly and lavender
in buckets in the flower stalls.

We had never been
so far from home, without our daughters
and damaged son.  Blue, blue, missing
their voices.  But not-blue, this new freedom,
like slipping into a dress of silk sky, believing
I could speak another language, wear perfume
behind my ears, spend the days wandering
museums, streets with flower boxes
on every window, cobblestoned alleys,

then nights with you in restaurants
with gilt-backed chairs, damask napkins, ruby wines.
The world of travel had licked its multicolored stamps,
pasted them all over my skin.

–Barbara Crooker