Couplets, XX by Robert Mezey

Don’t be afraid of dying. The glass of water Is quickly poured into the waiting goblet. Your face that will be of no further use to mirrors Grows more and more transparent, nothing is hidden. It’s night in the remotest provinces of the brain, Seeing falls back into the great sea of light. How strange…

A Mown Lawn, by Lydia Davis

She hated a mown lawn. Maybe that was because mow was the reverse of wom, the beginning of the name of what she was—a woman. A mown lawn had a sad sound to it, like a long moan. From her, a mown lawn made a long moan. Lawn had some of the letters of man,…

The History Teacher, by Billy Collins

Trying to protect his students’ innocence he told them the Ice Age was really just the Chilly Age, a period of a million years when everyone had to wear sweaters. And the Stone Age became the Gravel Age, named after the long driveways of the time. The Spanish Inquisition was nothing more than an outbreak…

Two-Headed Calf, by Laura Gilpin

Tomorrow when the farm boys find this freak of nature, they will wrap his body in newspaper and carry him to the museum. But tonight he is alive and in the north field with his mother. It is a perfect summer evening: the moon rising over the orchard, the wind in the grass. And as…

Musée des Beaux Arts, by W. H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong, The old Masters: how well they understood Its human position: how it takes place While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along; How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting For the miraculous birth, there always must be Children who did not specially…

Ozymandias, by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land, Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. … Near them, on the sand, Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown, And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamped on…

Age, Formative

Lyric essay: This prose poem jumbles passages from slave narratives and self-help books, Walden and the Hadith, online therapy forums and celebrity memoirs, weaving together a series of age-specific moments that shed light on the boundaries of memory and the complexities of self-presentation.

The Last Antiwar Poem

Literary criticism: 50 years on, Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” reads like a drug-addled, homoerotic variation of “Jackass.” If we aspire this year to recognize the anniversary of a Ginsberg poem that still seems relevant and challenging, we should fast-forward ten years to 1966, when the iconic Beat poet penned “Wichita Vortex Sutra.”

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