Jan '04 [Home]

Poetry Feature

Guest Editor's Preface
by Martin Mitchell

. . .
Fountain of Blood ~ Patrick Donnelly
Rosary ~ Margaret Ryan
Shelter ~ Suzanne Parker
Elementary Physics ~ Deena Linett
Landscape in October ~ Bertha Rogers
Florence, Morning to Night
~ Stormbirds ~ Eamon Grennan
Historic Towne Centre ~ M. A. Schaffner
Zenology ~ Dick Allen
Salvavidas ~ Rachel Dacus
~ Evergreen Boughs ~ Charlie Smith
Van Winkle Awakens to a New Style of Jazz ~ Richard Frost
The Load ~ Maria Terrone
~ Wooden Tulips ~ Alison Woods
Side Show
~ Grenadian Gothic ~ Gabrielle LeMay

Images:  Meredith Miller

Urban Incident ~ Kurt Brown
Homily ~ Graham Duncan
Everything in Quotations ~ Mervyn Taylor
As Is
~ But Instead ~ Michael T. Young
Black and White ~ Rachel Hadas
Like a Mantle, the Sea ~ Gardner McFall
Parachute ~ Robert Wrigley
Resolutions for a More Meaningful Existence ~ Clifford Browder
Goodbye ~ Stephen Stepanchev
First Books ~ Andrea Hollander Budy
Up Late at a Dark Window ~ Peg Peoples
The Ghost Takes a Look at Himself
~ What We Have ~ Philip Miller
Desert Island Disc ~ Lorna Knowles Blake

Contributor Notes

~ . ~

Fountain of Blood
Patrick Donnelly

          Les grands jets d'eau sveltes parmi les marbres

Sometime last week, in my neighbor's yard,
whoever it was, with whatever tool, broke up the concrete,
arranged the shattered slag around an oval of soil
that last looked at light and drank rain circa 1894,
and plunged a plant into that barely breathing dirt.

I hate to say just plant; I've known men and women less alive
than this ornamental grass — "ornamental" a slander
unless a tiger is an ornament, a leaping zebra,
a striped fountain of blood, a great grass-gush seven feet tall
jetting panicles like foxtails over the fence, soft to the touch,
weeping rye, oats, millet, wheat, bread and the broken host of love
to the pavement, to be licked up by deertongue
and the ghosts of our long lost Brooklyn sheep and stock.

How will it live, in these ruins? How will I?

~ . ~

Margaret Ryan

Sitting in her chair
in the living room
under the stained glass
window, the TV
on, but muted,
my mother watched
the priests say mass
from dawn to dusk
on the Eternal
Word of God Network.
At three, they said
the rosary.  The camera
lingered on the beads.

When we were children
she kept our eyes
on the eternal.  The odor
of sanctity clung
to everything, even
our underwear,
even the sheets.
Sometimes in winter
clothes froze on the line,
and had to be brought in,
thawed or broken
back into cloth
that could be touched
without chafing our skin.

Those last years, she
was almost always alone.
Eileen, Anne and Tommy
gone.  No raised
voices tearing at
the edge of dreams,
no splintering glass.
No trips to the ER
in the black sedan or blue
cruisers askew
on the small front lawn.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph
she used to call down
from the top step
into the dark.  St. Michael
the Archangel, protect us
in battle.  Be our defense
against the wiles and
wickedness of the devil.

You could hear her
rosaries, horn or crystal,
one Ave becoming another,
wearing her fingers
to the bone.

~ . ~

Suzanne Parker

To fit a house into a car, live lightly.
How many pairs of jeans are needed?
The mole people build homes from garbage.
Trash houses rats.  The backs of rats
harbor lice.  We anchor where situation
drops us and sleep can be its own room
to settle in, trusting the door's latch
will hold.  In Cannes, I crash on the grass
in a park, wake to rankness as a bum
spoons me, his hand between my legs
poking, trying to burrow.  Such
an intimate violation.  The sour wine
of his breath washes my cheek.  His knees
shelter behind mine, startle when I kick away.
We all seek our own protection, huddling
against the back of the cave when the flame
flickers out.  I sleep with my city windows open,
a knife beneath the pillow.  Every now and then,
morning shows scratches on my arm,
the thinnest traces of red, and I feel safe.

~ . ~

Elementary Physics
Deena Linett

Everybody knows this now:  light is particle and
at the same time wave.  Therefore when you died

I expected a momentary crushing of the light, paper
in a giant fist.  No.  An astonishing want

of sound.  How could nothing happen? Surely
there are rearrangements of the planes,

a little pull on the fabric we don't have instruments
to measure.  I stood before the Einstein statue in DC.

Face familiar, perhaps three times life-size, he slouches
at the edge of a bronze universe in metal sweater

and jeans, holding — naturally — a book.  Whose thoughts
bent even art in the 20th century (most of my time here)

is said to have been brutal in his personal life.  How
will such matters affect the nature of our regard?  How

do they bear on the relation of light to dark, particle
to wave, infinite cold skies rushing onto absence?

~ . ~

Landscape in October
Bertha Rogers

Let us go forth into what waits — white sky,
red moon.  Let us embrace each rickety
breeze as if it were a new lover, all
pheromones askew for this right moment.

Each heretofore unknown river wants us;
each tree wishes our flight past every
rent petal, cold-emboldened insect.
All piebald horses stand ready to cheer.

Why, then, do we hesitate?  Even the
coyote running the ridge knows the repose
of butchery without recompense.
This hooped October morning, ground clouds
squalling, leaves plummeting, offers its own
complex answer.  Give over, it says; give.

~ . ~

Florence, Morning to Night
Eamon Grennan

A flock of pigeons brushing your ears.  Two lovers on the Bridge of Grace.
Morning brings the city back in bits and pieces:  dark hair, eyes coming in
On the tide.  Always to know the place at risk.  No matter how high the walls
You keep going back to the ghostly moment of breached dykes, floodburst
And the element heaving up, sweeping all away.  But all day you see lovers
Two by two, and strangers, making the place safe.  Now, under a salty half-moon
The city is a million sparks, its river all shadowglow.  One bat sweeps about
And about, all ears, on its blind tours of inspection.  And just as you yourself
Are about to fly asunder as a flitter of mist over water, the soft sweet weight
Of bells sings out and you see what it means, holding the whole thing together.

~ .

Eamon Grennan

To be taken and tossed like a handful of seed the way a flock of finches
Or mottled starlings is by the big wind that's blowing an ocean of noise
Among the sycamore leaves; to be a particle of that great breath, helpless
Except to go where it lists, the wings of your will tucked in, watching
The world spinning under you, being whipped away like that so you have
No say at all in the matter, your feelings shelved, your bared body
At the mercy of something you can know only as the nature of things:
Or else to stand up to it as that sea-going gull does, beating inch by inch
Along choppy whitecaps, aiming his whole self where he wants to be and
Will get to by zigzag angles — taking, in the teeth of the gale, his own way.

~ . ~

Historic Towne Centre
M. A. Schaffner

The Museum of the Ideal City lies
just beyond the municipal garage.
A brick mall and flagstone pavers lead
through a gallery of witty boutiques

and national chains of the better kind.
The coffee tastes good and the sidewalk seating
receives a daily scrub at ten-fifteen
when the beggars retire to adjoining streets.

I like these places better than bare highways
blotched with used car lots and burger troughs,
but not more than the accidental street,
not yet redeveloped, where

an ancient man and his aging son
fix manual typewriters and sell
just enough ribbons and parts to survive
until the day you finally need them.

~ . ~

Dick Allen

No answer is also an answer,
my Zen Master said.
The color of life is magenta
but most people think it's red.

I pleaded, I begged, I implored him
to show me some proof,
but all he did was look broken
as an old wisdom tooth.

"My life," I told him, "my life
has gone down the drain.
What can I do about it?
Please, Master, explain."

He smiled and he smiled and he smiled
and then raised one hand
to brush a fly from the air
before it could land.

No answer is also an answer,
he told me again.
Why should I turn a locked doorknob
or pluck a bald hen?

"Idiot Master!" I shouted.
"Go screw yourself!"
He proceeded to do this.  Amazing,
what Zen can engulf.

~ . ~

Rachel Dacus

Salvavida bajo su asiento.
It took me a while to translate:  Lifesaver
Under Your Seat.  Under this fragile body
of lofting steel, our tennis rackets and rain
coats, our bathing suits, and below that, thirty
thousand feet of turbulent pockets and updrafts.
And under that, what no lifesaver
can cushion:  land.  But on this vessel
they soothe in every lingo:  salvavida
is below your asiento, and that's all you need.
That, and at the press of a button, everything
in featherweights — the five-ounce can
of tomato juice at ninety-minute intervals,
two cookies and twenty chips, a pillow
small as a horizon cloud measured with fingers
on the window.  They float up the aisles to keep you
warm and half-asleep, fed and amused.
Journeying is hard and someone should
double-check switches and seat-backs,
make sure that salvavida is handy.
Someone like the mother you ought to have had,
who holds up the plane with her pinned-on wings,
who salvas your vida while it hurtles at five hundred
per, someone who says, in case you speak English —
and only up here — Salvation is at hand.

~ . ~

Charlie Smith

…slow hitch and up pull of the hip,
the swing, knee barely flexing, the curve like

a sabal frond bent suddenly by wind, the foot flashing,
in a sense, forward, extended like the hood of a Bonneville, turned

slightly outward to catch with the face of the foot
the breeze, the great Magellanic clouds, to balance all there an instant,
the body upwardly following, appended, rising from the side
of itself like an architectural folly

or former city of light rising
from the excavated marl, the barely covered bones

aching all night, radiant like beacons
of a slow decay continuously occurring near us in the woods

out behind the mall where boys with nothing else to do
run wild on Sundays, bellowing

and lashing each other with bicycle chains.

~ .

Evergreen Boughs
Charlie Smith

The year I admitted I was lonely
I didn't know what I was saying
          I said the nights are rough here
they have minikins & clowns
old postulates
taking out the trash and you
          get lonely sometimes. I didn't know
how one thing leads to another
like a smell under the house
          and then you're talking about the payoff
when you don't even want to
you want them to listen
like people with taps on their shoes
          who later as they heavily, roguishly dance,
think well of you.

~ . ~

Van Winkle Awakens to a New Style of Jazz
Richard Frost

Free-form, no definite beat,
like tripping on a beard, even the drummer
freed of the old pulse — little explosions,
then a wide landscape across the cymbals.
The tenorman with a hard political edge.
Where to go now?  All the new changes,
his modern ones, slept away,
to tumble down a waterfall of grunts
and thunder, a keyboard beside him
in air with boxes of wired noise, hands
caught in the strings, in the cold plunge.
And up to a flat pool?  Underneath
and up, and at last to breathe?
To steer to the shore and its garden
where the moldy fig drops its seeds
until a tree begins to sway again,
begins to dream?

~ . ~

The Load
Maria Terrone

A rope has appeared
outside my office window.
Sometimes it zigzags across the pane
like window wipers in a storm that say
Look harder or you'll die.
But then it drifts away and back
as if tied to a tree far below,
where a child sails through summer
on a rubber tire.
They say fall arrived a while ago,
but from here, the season is a mere
abstraction.  The only trees in view
are hulking evergreens on a rooftop terrace,
lined shoulder to shoulder
like Secret Service agents,
eyes trained on the street.
Now the rope shakes
as it lowers a bulging, man-sized sack.
The trees, intrigued, lean forward,
then shrug, stinging the dusky air.
A stranger phones to gloat
Bodies from the top-floor suite.
But Muzak from the ceiling sings
Christmas gifts for the child.
I've looked hard,
but I can only see so far,
and there are no clues —
not out there,
where clouds scowl shadows
across the face of white brick.
And surely not in here,
where the rooms next door,
around the corner, across the hall
have long been locked
and emptied.

~ . ~

Alison Woods

Sometimes I forget I am a mother;
the earth in turning night to day
illuminates my home, my life, its cover,

turns my eye away from hover-
ing around my child's eager display.
Sometimes I forget I am a mother

looking to love's other
possibility, and it is okay
to illuminate my home, my life, its cover.

Sometimes fearful of regret's deep shudder —
life being judged by those who stay —
I sometimes forget I am a mother,

yet being one, we are each other's lover
reveling in our own play
which illuminates our home, our lives, its cover.

Then it dawns — she is my tether,
my next right step, my right of way.
That I sometimes forget I am a mother
illuminates my home, my life, its cover.

~ .

Wooden Tulips
Alison Woods

She wants me to admire them,
these hand-carved tulips
stiff on their stems.  Sadly
they speak of faithlessness

saturated with color.  They keep
vigil in primary brightness.
Is it natural that a mother should adore
what is complete, without need, or want, or fragrance?

Oh, I know it isn't personal, decoration
a lesson in self-sufficiency.  But beyond
their manufactured bloom I see they too
are burdened, their sorrow perpetual.

I've given my wooden tulips away.
Wilted freesia in a vase greet me,
the cut flower with tender leaves
a testament to love made insoluble.

~ . ~

Side Show
Gabrielle LeMay

Come and see the albino raccoon!
The earless goats!
The bearded lady!
Miniature steeds from Andalusia
whose hearts beat in time
with their hooves…

Step, now, through windswept balloons;
through hamburger wrappers that dance to the cries
of the elephant in the Mason jar
torn from its slaughtered mother like tar

— and win, if you can,
          a velveteen cowboy hat
          in ghastly shocking pink!

Wear it to visit the vacuum hose
that houses the Moray eel;
to the seahorse school
where dart-eyed curlicues
coil as if starved around each other —

See the sword-swallower's eyes water!
Hear him gasp
as he gulps at a yard-long, sharded rasp;
see, too, the lady dressed in pythons
unpeel them, revealing
her tattoos…

And you, Lady:
See your thick left breast
being torn from your body by the O.R. team:
For the rest of your life
you will gasp at the scar
that rips past your heart like a scream —

But you've stepped right up to the months you've won
in this place that everyone fears.
Stunned by the din of the stock-car race
and the whacking of horror-house doors,
you've entered your house of mirrors.

You with the beautiful face.

~ .

Grenadian Gothic
Gabrielle LeMay

I am not white, you tell me —
not even my skin.

I am peachy beige, tinged with moments
of a faint dull green

that varies in tone
as it travels like smoke along a vein.

You say I am the color of the sand at Grand Anse,
though by now I am starting to tan.

You tell me my eyes are the blue of the sky
that breathes down on Grand Etang.

Nuzzling my froth of beer-colored hair,
you stand by me naked as a tree.

And I am not white, and you are not black
when the footlights slip into the sea.

~ . ~