Poems from 1996

By the summer of 1996 things were much better, and best of all (from the limited point of view of writing!) I still felt that I was in "condition" from the intense training of 1994. A bit like working in a food co-op bagging bulk produce or the like: for a while your hands just know what a half pound is, what a pound is. My wonderful mother came to visit in the summer, and I got away to a marvelous women's writing retreat in Paradox, New York. My plans to blanket everyone of my acquaintance with postcards with the coveted "Paradox" postmark came to naught, but I did get back into a rhythm of writing. And since many of the other women in attendance were elderly Roman Catholic nuns, I got to feel like one of the dangerous women (hanging with Barbara, Monica and Zuzia helped there too).

I used to be in love
used to wake into a story still
taking shape, I used to
walk through town radiating
so the guy at the hardware
counter would blink and turn shy

I used to be in love
I used to be a streetlamp, damn it
the moths would gather and hover
one hell
one hell of a lover

and when I sang all the drunks
and poets at the bar
would weep and cheer

but now my heart
is a scar in armor
all my passion
packed away in boxes
in some attic
now it's all
a cold, dusty book
of matches

April 1996

I. Moby

So you weren't the one for the job.
I'm sorry. You see:
I've scuttled my ships,
gone into a nunnery.
I've forsworn the harpoons and grappling hooks
and regretted all your wounds.
(But rendered down, what a fuel
you would have given my thousand lamps!)

II. When We Meet

When we meet, as we surely must,
ten years hence in the Vienna airport,
I know your whale nature will out,
you'll be deep in baldness and blubber weight.

Yes, you'll be the one who looks
seven years older. I'll be still
grimly slender, my hair a yard long,
coiled up in readiness.
I won't be sorry.
You hear:
I won't recognize you.

April 1996


Summer is pregnant with its own demise:
the black fig, the red leaf at its heart.
Isidora, you knew in your country
of grey cities and untrimmed highways,
you mourned the small orphans at the eye
of the flood, their clean-bitten skeletons
battered in the family plot. For only death
signs our final ripeness, our passage
into different stories. And Isidora,
when they carried in the quisling feast
you moved aside and stood stiff in the corner,
untasting, and all the rest
of that questionable evening
you offered only your conversation,
the grain uncompromised
by enemy handling.

By your will: wrapped in a sheet
from your own household,
dead to any condescension,
my dessicated sweetness,
my dusty tallow candle.
The end kernel of every joy.

So there you were all that time,
beautiful ghost, moving my man's hands
so many years, and he was never there
with me the way that you were there, with me.
EVentually I finished burying you
and mourning, I replaced you
with new straw idols, but you still breathed
deep in the heart's red clay.
In time you clawed your way
to the earth's surface, burst black-winged
from the shifting grave on which I built
my house, my glass palace. I was lucky
to pick myself up in one piece and gather
the scattered, weeping children.

And you,
if someone spoke my name today,
would probably say, "Who?"


Late emissary of an evil empire,
you set your mouth secretly
against my leg in the night
and left your burning apple there.

Creature and totem of the same dark
goddess who let earwigs eat my roses!
I only know you and your midnight name
because you have bitten me before.

July 1996

Letting Bertha Out

Friday she was pummeling
the Carolina coast, Saturday
it rained twelve hours in Philly
and high waves off the Jersey shore
eroded beaches. Tourists were fleeing inland.

The Muse of Disobedience. She says:
take the right moment
and spin it into a storm. She holds
a straight rod with a pine cone
bound to its end --

Careful! HIdden wives
so often mean hidden knives:
she'll bite the children,
suck out their sweet marrow.
You offer her a plate of caramels.
Will she take one and smile
or knock them to your feet
and trample them, caring nothing
for your rug, your house,
your precarious settlement?

He is a foreign gentleman:
there's something Greek in the smile,
something perhaps Slavic in the accent.
He has unamerican stores of patience.
I said, "And the jet lag?
I hope you're feeling better today."
He said, "How bloody that sounds!"
and shook his lovely head.
I suppose he is amused
to be wooed in the tongue of Jesse James
and Al Capone. He thinks
American girls are so exotic,
he thinks, "This one will be easy."

I dream of you
by day, your touch
like an orchid,
a path that plunges
from light to midnight.

I deam of you
and a silvery froth
of words you might
have said, I weave
a slender bracelet
for my unkissed wrist.

But by night, you know,
I dreamed the lense
of my glasses went dark
and broke. I ate them.
They tasted of raisins.

They ran long wooden splinters
into his temples, scalloped edges
of broken porcelain against the inside
of his eyebrows, they gently raised
the rate of the pneumatic drill.
No matter how tall you are,
no matter how much a scholar,
you topple slowly into misery
and silence. Only enough left to call
the familiar three digits.
The European hooting ring
resounds in the vaulted skull
that looks so monolithic from without.

They took my friend
and made pursed faces:
when did it happen, and how often
does it occur? My friend already
staring in frozen horror at the aurora
borealis of Kolyma, all the poets
perished at Solovki and left
nothing but their photographs.
Wheeled on a flat bed as soft
as the seats of a sport scar,
the words already thunder
in another alphabet, each i
dotted twice, and the ice
in your eyebrows stretched
to needles, only heart labors
forward, fingers freezing
mutant around the shovel.

Later my friend wrote me
in humorous grimness, everything
he had missed, joked about his graine,
but the handwriting had changed.
I didn't even guess
that he was no longer
at that address,
that there was no point
in typing a response.

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