The barstool’s capacious, then ever more enclosed,
with every beer, as evening erodes.

A few capricious tourists off the cozy track
propose unbeaten toasts. He’ll soon be going back.

Mannequin musicians play mandolins or thumb pianos,
bleat out a reggae air on ragged banjos.

The booths patter with the local lingo.
Smattered English polishes the windows.

An amble to the john, the mirror’s random crack.
The urinal’s askew. He’ll soon be going back.

The minimal solicitudes of seven-minute flirts:
blurted-out soliloquies, well-trained parting words.

Insert pejorative for natives here,
before a sputtered call for one more beer.

Dusty carnations; carnival bric-a-brac—
long-faded revaltions. He’ll soon be going back.

-Andrew Shields, “Expat” from

Thomas Hardy Listens to Louis Armstrong 


From dawn to dusk I’m drunk and singing,
lovesick with every new spring.
There’s a messenger with letters in the rain;
there’s a broken-hearted girl by the window.
Rolling up beaded blinds, I see mountains;
each sorrow’s renewed like the grass.
Since last we parted, at your feasts
how often has the rafter dust fallen?

To Guo Xiang (寄國香) by
Yu Xuanji (魚玄機). Trans. Leonard Ng. Tang Dynasty.    

Yu Xuanji (844-868/869) was a courtesan and Chinese poet from
Chang’an. Her courtesy names were Youwei (幼微),
meaning “young and tiny,” and Huilan (蕙蘭), meaning “fragrant orchid”. Her
surname, Yu (魚), is quite rare, and her given name, Xuanji (玄機), is a technical term in
Buddhism and Taoism, meaning “Mysterious Principle” or “Profound Theory.” She
was named one of the most famous female poets of the Tang Dynasty. There is only a small number of detailed accounts of her life. Yu married as a concubine to an official
at 16, but their relationship was short-lived. She became a courtesan and a Taoist nun after their separation. She
lived a short and scandalously promiscuous life. Yu was executed at the age of
26 to 28 for allegedly abusing her maid to death. Her poetry is distinct for their frank and direct autobiographical style, and she often uses
her personal voice instead of a persona’s. Her poems were published in a lost
collection called Fragments of a Northern
There are forty-nine surviving poems of hers collected in the Song

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Horoscopes For the Dead – PEN America


Horoscopes For the Dead – PEN America