by Eve Robillard
Lesson, With Questions 

You (in your very good English)
are explaining to me
how Matisse did not

paint things—he painted
the relationship
between them.
point out
to me
the geranium in its pot

the goldfish in its bowl

(your hands quick now, light—as if you

were holding your own invisible brush)

and the way apples on a table

mirror the woman's breasts then
I say to you (in my very bad

French) I like this one, I like

how the woman stands at the window
the book lying open that way
the sky so wide

so impossibly blue.

-from when gertrude married alice.
Parallel Press, 2004


American Life in Poetry: Column 168


So often, reading a poem can in itself feel like a thing
overheard. Here, Mary-Sherman Willis
of Virginia describes
the feeling of being stilled
by conversation, in this case barely
and nearly indecipherable.

The Laughter of Women

From over the wall I could hear the laughter of women
in a foreign tongue, in the sun-rinsed air of the city.
They sat (so I thought) perfumed in their hats and their silks,

in chairs on the grass amid flowers glowing and swaying.
One spoke and the others rang like bells, oh so witty,
like bells till the sound filled up the garden and lifted

like bubbles spilling over the bricks that enclosed them,
their happiness holding them, even if just for the moment.
Although I did not understand a word they were saying,

their sound surrounded me, fell on my shoulders and hair,
and burst on my cheeks like kisses, and continued to fall,
holding me there where I stood on the sidewalk listening.

As I could not move, I had to hear them grow silent,
and adjust myself to the clouds and the cooling air.
The mumble of thunder rumbled out of the wall
and the smacking of drops as the rain fell everywhere.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by
The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org),
publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported
by the Department of English at the University
of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c) 2007
by Mary-Sherman Willis. Reprinted from
"The Hudson Review," Vol. LX, no. 3, (Autumn 2007),
by permission of Mary-Sherman Willis. Introduction
copyright (c) 2008 by The Poetry Foundation.
The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as
United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry
to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We
do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.



by Michael Smith


Three green plastic baskets,
the kind stuffed with strawberries and
covering tables at farmer's markets,
hang from a ponderosa's head-high boughs,
their bottoms lined with
randomly shaped strips of
violet cloth and
wads of surgical cotton.

I think children had faith
searching birds would
ferret out their location like
the robins that found a vee in
my backyard poplar before
knitting a cradle of twigs and
suspect materials indiscernible
from my perch on the ground,
or the hummingbird that wove
her nursery from
amber twine, cinnamon grass, black
thread, mint-green dental floss,
white tufts of rabbit fur, blue sponge and
red felt. A wild wind drove
it down from the yellowing maple
shedding on the driveway before my
cupped hands carried it to a bookcase shelf,
the shards of white shell surviving
the journey wedged between the fibers of
the apricot-size hollow.

Keen to fragilities,
like those of the surprise egg laid by
a friend's conure at the bottom of
a cage of steel,
and children's dreams,
I place a sparrow's discarded feather in
each of the swaying baskets and
walk away.

-originally appeared in Nimrod