My stepboy asks me will I help him lift our healthy dog across the fence to visit Gumboot, who’ll die soon. Already he’s all bone: all parapets of spine, all open jaw of hips, all of course ribcage. This can’t but first be seen. Yesterday a stranger knocked next door with thirty pounds of Bil-Jac from his truck. He eats, Ms. Bello told him, her coalblack arms crossed up above her breasts. Just not so much no more. I do fill his bowl. Now my boy rubs Gumboot’s ear. He’s dusty, says my boy.…

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Oklahoma Tanka + Ars Poetica

Oklahoma Tanka #1 Ice storm. Close your eyes: the wind through the last high leaves in the trees could be squirrels scouring nutshells or birds pacing limbs, warming themselves. #2 October, summer still a stifling dinner guest. At last, first north wind calls through my window like a rowdy friend: climb out and play. #3 Just east, hundred-year flood made a town an island. Here, parade canceled, we gasped with strangers at the river swallowing its banks. #4 Vacant lot, morning cold a fresh linen…

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Fieldbook of Natural History

When God was handing out physiques, I thought he said antiques and asked for a distressed relic. But seriously, folks. These bodies. Imagine every creature spellbound by its finest feature. A tadpole’s in love with its tail. A mussel prays to its foot. Octopuses of course worship arms but envy the spines of salmon, who raindance in a shower of nerves. Stink is incense to a skunk. Surely a dog thinks God lives in its nose, the stereo scents down the snout always just out of sight. Homo habilis,…

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Winter Rye

Only these few days in its life will this baby grass be this peculiar shade of green. Pretend I didn’t plant it. Pretend its seeds blew in from another planet. All it knows so far is autumn and the sprinkler. For all it knows, it has landed somewhere perfect for a grass’s life—say, an Ireland planet, or a planet wholly rainforest—and every day will be like this. Snow will never fall. No ice, no drought. And a giant pink primate will tiptoe up to water it twice daily forever. But it will only be…

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Indian Clinic

Here in this lobby, waiting for my name, I’m aware of my pale face. Over there sits a very black man, maybe four-hundred pounds, a tube to his nose from a little wheeled tank. Centuries ago, his cousin and my cousin sneaked from their village and kissed in an Appalachian cave, darkness but glimmering coal walls unmined. Healthcare is free in America, should you carry a quantum of indigenous blood. It’s a federal promise, a guardian-ward guarantee that somehow survived when other treaties were…

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A Call for New Poems

During your eulogy, your mother’s pastor, who’s never met you but knows you wrote poetry, reads One short sleep past, we wake eternally. Your brother elbows me to commandeer the pulpit. Already this morning we’ve finished the bottle of Scotch left behind on your desk. Before the sanctuary of your hundred friends, I suddenly pity the pastor, his theme as unresolved as your whiskey. Were I to finish his, I might recite After the first death, there is no other. I instead tell the story of you in…

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Sleeping Between the Bears

It was their first day together since the judge ordered them apart. Royce had picked him up around eleven from the boy’s grandfather’s in East Tulsa, then pulled into a McDonald’s drive-thru on the highway south for lunch. But Denny would not eat. The boy wasn’t shy about his aversion to being here, and Royce, deciding the boy had seen enough punishment lately, let him do as he pleased. Royce balanced his own cheeseburgers on a thigh as he guided the pickup down the road, glancing every so…

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Lew Going Clean

The time Lew tried going clean for good he took a job as Overnight Warden in a halfway house for criminal schizophrenics. The hours were long and the home, a hulking old three-story farmhouse, was out in the country beyond the city limits. He had a criminal record himself, but what they knew of it was not violent, and that was good enough for them. Applicants weren’t exactly knocking down the door to spend the night with insane people, apparently, even if the pay was good. His plan was to cut…

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Secondhand Row

Inside Bedford's culture of bootlegs, used books and junk busts At some point during the gentle morning hours, between the time when Saturday night bar goers shuffle home to sleep and when the cafes open for Sunday brunch, Bedford Avenue between North 3rd and North 8th Streets makes a quiet transformation. Women and men, some dragging pushcarts, others driving station wagons, unfold card tables and spread brightly colored blankets onto the sidewalks. Handmade t-shirts and glass pipes are…

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How to Ride a Wake

Or, the Arcade Fire puts the fun in Funeral. The short history of the Arcade Fire is fast being laid down in meteoric highs and dismal lows. During the year and a half since forming, the Montreal sextet has lived through the deaths of three family members, survived the dark chill of a Canadian winter, and worked crappy, on-the-black bakery jobs to cover expenses recording its debut LP, Funeral. So maybe it's to be expected when a scheduled interview from the road finds that they've traded…

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Everyone’s an Outlaw Now

Stomping along with other Portland old-timey acts, Power of County digs up the past. But don't call it bluegrass. Something's different about the audience at the Power of County show on a recent Friday night at Billy Ray's. Indie kids and cowboys tap shoes and boots in time to the scrap-yard rhythms from the washboard. Punks plod the floor during the murder ballads with a gleeful anger. Hippie girls sway with arms outstretched like a gospel choir to the achingly moaned love songs—right beside…

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Uncivil Union

While he's breaking the laws of country and hip-hop, Sandman hooks up with actual lawbreakers. "I'm surrounded by anarchy, but I don't know if I'm an anarchist," laughs folk rapper Chris Sand, a.k.a. Sandman. He's sitting cross-legged and sipping coffee in his Olympia home, a progressive housing collective he shares with five others. The anarchy surrounding him isn't just from his Emma Goldman-inspired housemates. It's also a part of the 32-year-old's music career: He's recently hooked up a…

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The Late Blues Invasion

Fat Possum rescues a handful of bluesmen from obscurity. Imagine if, after the Beatles first hit it big in the States, the British Invasion hadn't followed them. In this bizarro world, the Rolling Stones are still popular back home—they've been playing scummy dives along the Mersey for 40 years—but they've never had a single hit in the U.S. The Who wrote a rock opera, but you've never heard it. A few years back, hoping to make some real money, they all signed to the same unknown record label,…

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Falling Out

In light of Richard Clarke's new bombshells, two books also set their sights on Bush & Co. Call it an idée fixe. Richard Clarke does, in his exposé of President George W. Bush's wartime performance that hit shelves last week. It's an accusation that has been offered twice in three months by disgruntled officials of Bush's inner circle: The president makes his facts fit his conclusions instead of the other way round. Eric Alterman and New York politico Mark Green have released their behemoth…

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The Softer Side

Mason Jennings might not always play it serious, but that doesn't mean he plays it safe. One way or another, every folk singer channels the ghost of Woody Guthrie. Either they play from his tough, serious side (the sorrowful, spiritually acute "Bound for Glory" balladeer), or they play from his softer, sometimes schmaltzy side (the Okie politico, the "let's go a-drivin' in the car-car, brrap-brrap-brap" easy rider). If the channel's an extreme of the serious side, you might get, say, Leonard…

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HBO Watch: Iron Jawed Angels

"In oranges and women," says the state psychiatrist who's just examined suffragette leader Alice Paul (Hilary Swank) during her 1920 prison stay following a fiery protest of Woodrow Wilson, "courage is often mistaken for insanity." It's with this cryptic, downright crappy line—a response to one anti-suffrage senator's huff that comparing Paul's jail-cell hunger strike to Patrick Henry's "liberty or death" credo is comparing "apples and oranges"—that the tide of popular opinion turns to favor…

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Alone Together

The young publishers at MacAdam/Cage gamble on new writers. There's a potent, near-ferine creativity exclusive to youth, as independent publisher MacAdam/Cage is well aware. Not only is the San Francisco house a youngster itself—its fourth anniversary comes later this year—it's also made its name publishing first, often experimental, works by young and unknown authors. Following an example set by the Denver indie MacMurray & Beck, which the house acquired in 2000, MacAdam/Cage has moved in…

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